Niemi saves his best for last in Sharks' shootout victory

Niemi brilliant, Sharks open road trip with shootout victory

Niemi saves his best for last in Sharks' shootout victory
October 21, 2013, 9:00 pm
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It was a helluva save, wasn’t it?
Todd McLellan

DETROIT – The Sharks’ 1-0 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night at Joe Louis Arena did not at all resemble any of the team’s first seven victories.

Those two little words often uttered in dressing rooms as being the key to success – time and space – were lacking for both teams in a monumental struggle to generate scoring chances. After a scoreless regulation and overtime, San Jose picked up the extra point in the standings on Logan Couture’s shootout winner and Antti Niemi’s stunning save on Todd Bertuzzi.

It might not have been the most crowd-pleasing game, with neutral zone play aplenty. But for the Sharks, they were delighted they were able to triumph a bit differently than they had so far this season, in which six of their previous seven wins came by at least three goals.

“We scored a lot of goals in our first eight games. We’d love to keep scoring like that, but I don’t think it’s going to happen every night,” Couture said. “For us to defend that the way we did, and give up zero, was nice.”

Todd McLellan said: “We’ve played in a variety of different games. It’s amazing – we’re nine games in. … We’ve played run-and-gun games, high scoring games, rugged games. This was the first really tight, 0-0 type game. Usually it takes awhile to have all of those experiences happen, but it’s occurred nine games in for us already, and I think that’s a good thing.”

The single best highlight from the game came on the very last play. After Couture converted on the shootout, Todd Bertuzzi attempted to keep the competition going on the Red Wings’ third attempt. He got Niemi to flop to the ice and had room above the fallen netminder, but Niemi managed to get his pad up just in time to stop the puck.

Earlier in the shootout, Pavel Datsyuk missed high and Niemi stopped Daniel Alfredsson. In other words, not a single puck got past Niemi, as he picked up his league-leading eighth win.

McLellan said: “It was a helluva save, wasn’t it? ‘Burt’ made a great move and had [Niemi] down and out, and he anticipated him going up, and got it with the pad.”

“He kind of had me down there, but usually they still try to get it higher off the ice. It’s kind of instinct and reaction,” Niemi said.

The goaltender finished with 24 saves to record his first shutout of the season. He’s 11-2-2 in his career against Detroit.

Niemi's best stops before the shootout came in the third period, as the Red Wings outshot the Sharks 12-6. At one point, that included eight attempts in a row. He turned aside all of them, including strong saves on Jordin Tootoo and Brendan Smith.

Jimmy Howard, who also got credit for his first shutout, was no slouch either. His top stops came earlier in the match.

“The goaltenders kind of matched the team play. Both were busy at times and not so busy at others,” McLellan said. “There weren’t a lot of shots or scoring chances either way, but when they were called upon, they were both sharp.”

Couture led all players with five shots, but nothing went in until the shootout. On his goal, Couture froze Howard with a fake backhand, and “I was able to get it just above the pad,” he said.

The Sharks improved to 1-1 in shootouts, and remain the NHL’s only team without a regulation defeat. San Jose continues its road trip on Thursday against another strong defensive team in the Boston Bruins.

“We’ve got to learn to play these types of games,” Joe Thornton said. “We’ve been blowing some teams out, and these are good, tight-checking games for us to get us ready for what comes next.”