Canucks-Sharks Preview

Roberto Luongo outplayed Antti Niemi and beat the San Jose

Sharks to help the Vancouver Canucks reach the Stanley Cup finals

last spring.

However, when the teams meet for the first time since the

playoffs, Niemi will be the far hotter goaltender while it isn’t

clear whether Luongo will even be in net.

The Sharks will try to match a season with a high fifth straight

win Saturday night when they host the Canucks, who are trying to

extend their longest winning streak of the season.

Vancouver eliminated San Jose in five games in the Western

Conference finals last season behind Luongo, who had a 2.38

goals-against average in that series compared to Niemi’s 3.68

mark.

Niemi, though, enters this contest having won five straight

starts while Luongo hasn’t played since Nov. 13 due to an

undisclosed upper-body injury. The Vancouver goalie hasn’t been

particularly sharp this season even when healthy, going 7-5-1 with

a 2.97 GAA which ranks him in the bottom third of the league.

A matchup with his former team didn’t bother Niemi as he stopped

34 shots for his first shutout of the season in a 1-0 victory over

Chicago on Wednesday. Niemi is 9-2-1 this season and has a 1.00 GAA

in his last four starts.

“We talked about it this morning. We really believe he’s

starting to resemble the Nemo from the past year and really

starting to settle in,” coach Todd McLellan said. “Just exuded

confidence.”

With solid play in net, the Sharks (13-5-1) have won six of

seven, giving up seven goals in the six victories.

San Jose may have caught a break with Vancouver (12-9-1) playing

the night before, which could lead to coach Alain Vigneault

starting Luongo over Cory Schneider. Though Luongo declared himself

ready to go this week, Schneider has won three consecutive starts,

the last two by shutout.

He made 21 saves in a 5-0 win at Phoenix on Friday.

“We were pretty sound defensively tonight,” said Ryan Kesler,

who had a goal and an assist. “When we did have breakdowns, a

couple there in the first period, Schneids was there. He’s been

there for the last three games for us. He’s been our best player

each and every night.”

Vancouver has outscored opponents 10-1 during a season-high

three-game streak and has won six of eight.

As well as the Sharks are playing, Luongo is 5-1-1 with a 1.99

GAA in his last seven starts against them – including playoffs.

“I know who’s going to play,” Vigneault said. “I’m going to tell

my goaltender tonight so I’ve got to tell them before I tell

you.”

The Canucks have won three of their last four regular-season

visits to San Jose. Henrik Sedin had 17 points in nine matchups

last season while Alexandre Burrows had six goals. Burrows has

scored in each of the last two games.