Stars keep two-goalie system in playoffs; Niemi to start Game 4

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) makes a save on a shot by the Nashville Predators during the third period of an NHL hockey game on Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Dallas. The Stars defeated the Predators, 3-2, to win the Central Division title. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

It appears the Dallas Stars will stick with their two goaltender system in the playoffs and turn to Antti Niemi to start Game 4 against the Minnesota Wild.

Kari Lehtonen had started the first three games of their first-round series and held a 1.69 goal-against average and .931 save percentage. But Lehtonen was the goaltender of record in Game 3 where the Stars blew a 2-0 lead to lose to Wild 5-3. Dallas holds a 2-1 series advantage.

Mike Heika, who covers the Stars for the Dallas Morning News, tweeted that Niemi would likely start Wednesday since he left the ice at morning skate first.

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Conventional hockey wisdom states a team picks one netminder for the playoffs and rides him through the entire postseason. The Stars have used a two goaltender system all season, and don’t seem to want to deviate from that model. Dallas won the Central Division and holds the top seed and home ice advantage through the Western Conference playoffs.

"We stuck with it the whole year, we had a tremendous start in which both guys played well. We had a little bit of a run where they struggled, but the other guy stepped in and did a good job. I feel it couldn't have gone better,” coach Lindy Ruff said after morning skate. “And the reason I feel we finished on top at the end was because both guys played so well. I think if I had probably played one, we might not have gotten to where we wanted to go."

During the regular season, both goaltenders were equals. Niemi started 43 games and finished with a 2.67 goal-against average and .905 save percentage. Lehtonen started 39 games and had a 2.76 goal-against average and .906 save percentage.

Niemi has 62 games of playoff experience and won the 2010 Stanley Cup as the Chicago Blackhawks' starter. Lehtonen’s played 11 postseason games in his career.

Niemi hasn’t played since Dallas’ season finale on April 9, a 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators.

Heika tried to explain the Stars' logic in starting Niemi.

Many outsiders are shocked the Stars would go to Niemi in a key game when he has been sitting since the season finale April 9. However, Niemi was in a slump in March, and Stars coach Lindy Ruff sat him from March 16 to March 26th. Niemi came back in against San Jose and won a 4-2 game while stopping 34 shots.

Said Ruff before the playoffs to the Dallas Morning News, “I don't think there's any wrong answer right now. I've got to give both these guys credit for what they've done down the stretch here. Either one is a good pick right now."

The Stars decided on the two-goaltender system this year, mainly because of Western Conference travel and back-to-backs. Both are mostly nullified in the playoffs because the schedule isn’t as condensed and teams spend multiple days in one city, rather than bouncing around from time zone to time zone.

“It’s about getting wins and we’re going to play it by ear,” general manager Jim Nill said about his goaltenders in an interview with Puck Daddy in early April. “If one guys gets on a roll and wins two or three in a row, he’s in net. If you lose one or two, we can shake it out. Both goalies have been very confortable. They’ve worked well together and we like the setup, so it’s been good.”

Niemi reportedly spoke few words when asked if it was tough to jump into the middle of a series, "No, I don't think so. I think you just have to prepare yourself for one game at a time and see it as that."


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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!