SAN JOSE -- Sharks coach Todd McLellan doesn't want to place too great a burden on goaltender Antti Niemi as his team prepares for Game 1 of its opening round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night. But Niemi knows what's expected of him.

"I've felt good the whole season. I was able to play pretty consistent," Niemi said Tuesday morning just before the team left for Vancouver. "Of course the goalie is huge in the playoffs, so I have to be sharp."

The Sharks will have a hard time advancing to the second round without a solid performance from Niemi, a Vezina Trophy candidate who started 25 of San Jose's last 26 games and did not lose to the Canucks this year. With Niemi in net, the Sharks won all three meetings with Vancouver. Niemi had a .943 save percentage and a 1.63 goals-against average in those games.

"He's a big part, but every pitcher needs the fielders to produce runs for him," McLellan said. "Does he have to play at the top of his game? Yes. But so do the other 19 guys that dress that night."

The key for Niemi will be duplicating those performances the first two games in Vancouver. Niemi's road record this year is 8-10-2, and obviously the Sharks need to win at least one game in Vancouver if they want to advance.

"He's had a tremendous year," defenseman Dan Boyle said of Niemi, "and you don't win a Stanley Cup without good goaltending."

  • A major reason the Sharks beat the Canucks three times this season was their quick starts. The Sharks had 2-0 leads in each game, including the last meeting April 1 when San Jose went ahead 3-0 midway through the second period and held on for a 3-2 win.


    Advertisement

    Vancouver's record is 2-6-2 this season when trailing after one period and 1-9-2 when trailing after two.

    "We know they are a good team, and our intensity level was where it needed to be right from the start," Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart said. "If it wasn't, they were going to put a beating on us."