SAN JOSE Sharks' goalie Antti Niemi had beaten his former team before. But never like this.
Niemi posted his first shutout of the season -- and first in his career against Chicago -- by making 34 saves in a 1-0 Sharks victory over the Blackhawks at HP Pavilion on Wednesday night. Jason Demers scored the only goal on a power play in the second period.
Niemi admitted earlier in the week that its still special for him to play against Chicago, which he helped to win a Stanley Cup in 2010, but which he also walked away from after a salary arbitration ruling that summer - making him a free agent.
That means its an even better feeling to get the win, right?
Yeah, for sure, a little bit, said Niemi, who was 3-1 against Chicago last season. I think as time goes by its less and less, but a little bit, yeah.
It might not be a coincidence, either. Niemi knows some of the Blackhawks top scorers well, having practiced against them during his two years in the organization.
I maybe recognize whos coming, so maybe I think whos shooting or whos not, he said. I think some of those I was expecting the shot, and it came, he said.
Niemi has allowed two or fewer goals in his last five starts all wins.
Hes the reason we got two points tonight. He played great, and for whatever reason he just likes playing against his old team, said Joe Thornton. Thank goodness for that.
Niemis effort was the biggest reason the game was still scoreless late in the second period when Chicagos Dave Bolland was whistled for hooking at 17:04. Just four seconds after their power play began, the Sharks scored when Demers shot of a rolling puck deflected off of Jonathan Toews stick and past goaltender Corey Crawford.
Logan Couture took the offensive zone faceoff, but it was Ryane Clowe who out-muscled Patrick Sharp in the circle to get the puck back to Demers at the point.
Its an area we talk about a lot, especially against good faceoff teams. You need the winger help, said Clowe. I tried to almost cheat a little bit and get a little bit of a jump. We stress that a lot.
Demers, who has been in and out of the lineup and played in just his 10th game, said the goal was a big weight off of his shoulders.
For sure, its a monkey off my back. Theres no hiding its been a tough start to the year, he said. But, Im working on the things I need to work on and its paying off slowly.
The Sharks rotated their entire third defense pair for the third straight game. Demers and Jim Vandermeer, who also played last Saturday in Dallas, got the call on Wednesday against the Blackhawks. It was Colin White and Justin Braun, though, who suited up for the win in Colorado on Sunday.
McLellan liked what he saw out of Demers and Vandermeer against Chicago.
I thought Demers and Vandermeer played maybe their best games of the year, he said. Its nice to see when a couple of them havent played a lot.
The Sharks struggled with an aggressive forecheck from Chicago for much of the first two periods. The Blackhawks were trying to end a two-game losing streak, which included a 9-2 throttling in Edmonton on Saturday.
Niemi held the Sharks in it, but was also fortunate that a couple of prime opportunities missed the mark.
Chicagos first great chance came early when Brent Burns fell down, leading to a Marian Hossa breakaway. Hossa fired high about seven minutes after the opening faceoff. Midway through the first, Niemi made a quick pad save on a shot by Toews on a Blackhawks power play.
Niemi continued to frustrate the Blackhawks in the second. During one furious sequence on another Chicago power play, Niemi quickly went right to left and stopped a one-timer by Marcus Kruger after some fancy passing by the Blackhawks. The rebound bounced right back to Kruger, who backhanded a pass to Bolland in the high slot, but Bollands shot missed the open net.
The Sharks woke up in time for the third, taking some pressure off of their goaltender. Still, Niemi made a good glove save of a slap shot by Duncan Keith, and with less than four minutes left, stuffed Toews at the side of the net with his stick along the ice and the puck trickled harmlessly through the crease.
A couple of his saves were spectacular, said Thornton.
The Sharks managed to increase their winning streak to four games on a night where some of their key players werent as energized as usual - including the captain.
Thornton said, It kind of felt like we didnt have our legs until the third period.
Im not going to lie, I didnt feel the best. Looking around, you look for other guys to see if they have jump, and it just felt like one of those games where guys were skating uphill.
In the end, though, it didnt matter, as Niemi lowered his goals-against average to 2.31 and upped his save percentage to .923 in winning his ninth game.
Were glad to have him on this side, said Thornton.
Odds and ends: The Sharks were 4-for-4 on the penalty kill and 1-for-4 with the power play. Niemis 34 saves are the most hes had among his 14 career shutouts. Demers has seven points (3g, 4a) in eight games against Chicago in his career. The Sharks are 7-0 when scoring the first goal of the game.