Niemi blanks Blackhawks in stellar shutout

Antti Niemi backstopped the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup five years ago. He may have had a flashback on Saturday night, stopping all 31 shots by the Blackhawks en route to a 2-0 Sharks’ win at SAP Center.

The game-winning goal came from Melker Karlsson in the first period, all the Sharks would need thanks to Niemi’s dominance. Joe Thornton added an empty-net goal late in the third to put the game away.

Niemi was especially phenomenal in the second period, stopping 15 shots and making several spectacular saves.

Early in the period, he stretched out the left pad and denied Brandon Saad in close. He fought off two hard slap shots by Brent Seabrook, the first on the power play and the second after the puck changed directions and forced him to readjust.

Niemi stymied Marian Hossa on a 2-on-1 break. He robbed Patrick Kane, whose one-timer was swallowed up by the glove of Niemi, stretching out from post-to-post.


Photos by Thomas Mendoza/SFBay

His best saves, however, came against Jonathan Toews on a shorthanded breakaway late in the period. Toews had several rebound opportunities after his original shot was stopped, but it was all for naught. Niemi reached across with the stick and stopped the puck from crossing the goal line on one attempt, then, lying on his back, closed his pads to stop another shot.

A third endeavor to score by Toews was stopped by Niemi’s right shoulder, the goalie still on his back. Brent Burns helped out in the crease as Toews continued to whack at the puck, and he was visibly frustrated after the referee blew the whistle.

San Jose, meanwhile, had just six shot attempts in the second frame, as Chicago dominated play. The Sharks went o-for-2 on the power play; their best chance came on even strength in the final minutes as a tip by Logan Couture driving the net went just wide after a feed by Patrick Marleau.

The Sharks got on the board first five minutes into the game on a goal by Karlsson, who drove the net following up a slap shot by Matt Irwin from the left wing. Karlsson was able to get a few jabs at the puck, and on second effort, tipped it off of Duncan Keith and into the net. It was Karlsson’s eighth goal in just 20 NHL games.

A strong shift by the third line of Tomas Hertl, James Sheppard, and Barclay Goodrow set up the goal, as the momentum carried over to the first line; Thornton started the rush with a feed up-ice to Irwin.

The game between rivals was not without feistiness. Midway through the first period, Blackhawks’ forward Bryan Bickell took a run at Scott Hannan into the boards, appearing to contact the head. However, no penalty was called.

The Sharks have now won three straight against formidable opponents: the Kings, Ducks, and now the Blackhawks. Their next opponent will be the Oilers at home on Monday.

Notes

Niemi recorded his 31st career shutout and fourth this season. … With a goal and an assist tonight, Thornton has 47 points in 45 career games against the Blackhawks. … Both starting goaltenders tonight both hailed from Finland and were both named “Antti” — Antti Raanta was in net for the Blackhawks. … Niemi is now 7-7-1 in his career against his former team. … The Sharks are 4-1-1 thus far on this seven-game homestand. … Attendance tonight was 17,562, a sellout.