Greene, Niemi in for Kings-Sharks Game 7
April, 30, 2014
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Matt Greene checks in for the injured Willie Mitchell for Game 7 Wednesday night.
"It's always fun, a high-stakes game like this. You come in and try to help out," Greene said after Wednesday's morning skate.
The veteran blueliner hasn't played since Game 2, his only appearance of the series.
Otherwise, no other changes were expected for the Kings, who should line up like this up front:
Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli
Dwight King-Jarret Stoll-Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford-Mike Richards-Trevor Lewis
Winning Game 5 at SAP Center, one of the NHL’s toughest rinks to play in, should provide some comfort for the Kings. But captain Brown underplayed it.
"I think it's irrelevant when it comes to a Game 7 like this," he said after the morning skate. "You look at our record here; we've maybe won only two or three games here the last couple of years. It’s obviously something they take pride in playing here at home. At the end of the day, in Game 7 all bets are off."
As for the Sharks, Antti Niemi gets the start for Game 7 after getting pulled in Game 5 and watching backup Alex Stalock start Game 6.
"I think I felt good in the practice today, yesterday, two days ago. So I feel ready," said Niemi. "I got a couple extra practice days between, maybe work on some stuff. Either way, having a day off from the game, not being so focused, maybe that's a good thing too."
Coach Todd McLellan explained the decision to start Niemi in part because the time off will have been beneficial to him, plus heading into Game 7, it’s about trusting the core of the team, which Niemi is a part of.
"I think the break was good for Nemo. He got a chance to work on some things in his game that the goaltending coach wanted to work on. He got a chance to rest," McLellan said Wednesday morning. "Our team did need a change heading into Game 6 into L.A. Unfortunately, we had to pull him twice, but that wasn’t all on Nemo’s shoulders. It’s pretty evident and pretty obvious, and I hope I’ve made that clear. But moving forward with Nemo, we want to give Nemo an opportunity.
"For us to win tonight or for them to win in that case, you’ll hear the cliches about how it’s going to take the full team and obviously it will, but I think our core and our team has to step up. They were there early in the series; L.A.’s core has been there later in the series. Tonight is the deciding game. And in my opinion, Nemo is a very big part of that core so they’ll get a chance to perform in that Game 7."
The Sharks held an optional morning skate and didn’t show line rushes, so there's no telling exactly how they will line up for Game 7. The important question as always will be whether Joe Pavelski starts on Joe Thornton’s left side or centers the third line. He might do a bit of both during the game depending on the score and specific situations.
Just guessing, but here’s how the forward lines could shape up:
Joe Pavelski-Joe Thornton-Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Matt Nieto
Tomas Hertl-James Sheppard-Tommy Wingels
Raffi Torres-Andrew Desjardins-Martin Havlat/Mike Brown
Meanwhile, injured defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was once again ruled out by McLellan.
Oh, and McLellan got a haircut.
"Lots of it off. Tried to cut all the gray out," deadpanned the Sharks coach.
Just like Tuesday at practice, the Sharks were a loose bunch at the morning skate. It’s just their nature, regardless of the pressured situation at hand.
"It's the way the room has always been," Pavelski said after the morning optional. "We have fun. Guys like playing the game here. We know the situation isn’t ideal, you know, to give up a [series] lead like that. But we still got another opportunity, and we believe that we worked all year for that home ice in case we were in a position like this against them. It’s about getting the job done, and I like our chances moving forward."
Doughty is the man
When it comes to big games, few players look forward to stepping up in clutch moments more than Kings blueliner Drew Doughty. As he showed in both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and the 2012 Stanley Cup run, he loves the big stage.
And on Wednesday morning, Doughty had his game face on.
"You treat this Game 7 as if it is the Olympic gold-medal game or the Stanley Cup finals," Doughty said. "For me personally, I need to have an unbelievable game for our team to win tonight. I need my A-game. I need to do everything right. I need to play well defensively, I need to chip in on the offense, I need to dominate on special teams, so that’s just how I look at it."
How do you not like this guy?
Creating a forecheck
A big key for the Sharks in Game 7 is to create a better forecheck and force more turnovers from the NHL’s best defensive team.
"The first couple of games, and I'm sure Darryl [Sutter] would tell you, and I don’t have to speak for their team, but they gave up a very large amount of outnumbered rushes and we were able to advantage of that," said McLellan. "Since Game 3, perhaps, we haven’t seen that. We’ve tried to create them, obviously, but they’re a very good, stingy defensive team. That’s gone away from us.
"If it presents itself, we have to bear down in those situations. If we do get some scoring opportunities, the way their team has played and the way their goaltender has played, we have to bear down. But our offense has been anemic the last 2-3 games. We need to have the puck more. We need to establish a forecheck better. We can’t be one-and-out. Our game is predicated on spending extra time in the offensive zone, shooting the puck and getting it back. It’s going to take more than that initial shot to beat Jonathan Quick the way he’s playing."