SAN JOSE -- The expected became official as Antti Niemi will start in goal for the Sharks when they host the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan confirmed the decision -- which had finalized by the coaching staff some time ago -- to start Niemi over backup Alex Stalock on Thursday morning.

"Excited. It's going to be a great night tonight," Niemi said. "Playing against one of the top teams, it's going to be a hard, fast game."

Niemi had been somewhat inconsistent in recent weeks, going 3-2 over his past five starts. That included getting pulled in a 5-2 loss to Anaheim on April 9 that marked his poorest performance during that stretch. But he shined in a 2-1 victory over Los Angeles on April 3, stopping 26 of 27 shots, and also stopped 30 of 32 shots in San Jose's 3-2 win over Phoenix on Saturday in the team's regular season finale.

"I think it probably had to do with the history and with the time, it looked possible that we might face them," Niemi said of his last start against the Kings. "I enjoy playing against them."

In the three practice days since, the Sharks went over all situations in both the offensive and defensive zones, and Niemi said it felt good to get a bit of time off from games.

Niemi had a 39-17-7 this season with a 2.39 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. Alex Stalock had the better statistics, going 12-5-2 with a 1.87 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. In addition, his more aggressive style of play may have been well-suited to help offset the Kings aggressive forecheck. But he has not started an NHL playoff game before in his career.


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Thursday will mark Niemi's 56th playoff start. He has a 32-23 record overall, and a 16-17 record in three seasons with the Sharks.

"He's our go-to guy. Simple as that," McLellan said of Niemi. "He has been our go-to guy for four years, he's our go-to guy in Game 1. I can tell you this, there wasn't near the amount of debate with the four of us in the coaches' room as there was with a whole bunch of you outside the coaches' room. But it was fun."

For more on the Sharks, see the Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Follow Curtis Pashelka on Twitter at twitter.com/CurtisPashelka.