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Niemi wins Fin duel
Sharks keep playoff hopes alive by shuting out Predators 2-0
3/12/15 - By Mike Lee -

As the Sharks continue to teeter over the missed playoff abyss, they scratched out another 2 points on Thursday night, knocking off the Nashville Predators 2-0 at SAP Center. Sitting atop the Western Conference standings in a virtual tie with the Anaheim Ducks and St Louis Blues, the Predators entered the game having lost 6 of their last 7 games. San Jose took advantage of the wounded opponent out of necessity, in order to keep their playoff aspirations alive.

The Sharks overcame a questionable call on an overturned goal to rally for a 2nd period power play goal then added an empty-net goal to beat Pekka Rinne and the Predators for the 2nd time this season.

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi stopped 35 shots to earn his 5th shutout of the season, which includes his 2nd against the Predators. Go figure that a team with highest point total in the league scores no goals on SAP Center ice in 120 minutes of hockey this season.

Niemi's 35 saves were the 2nd highest in a shutout in his career. He stopped 41 shots against the New York Rangers almost a year ago.

"Nemo was very strong again tonight," said Sharks head Coach Todd McLellan. "He was very confident. Team feels good with him in there. He made some very different saves look easy. There weren't a lot of leftovers laying around the crease area."

Nashville out-shot San Jose 14-6 in the opening period, but it was the Sharks who had the best scoring chance of the frame. In fact, they should have been credited with a goal midway through the period after Tomas Hertl powered the puck past Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne as he crashed in on net from the left side.

Only problem is, the goal was overturned as referee Tim Peel ruled that Hertl interfered with Rinne. Replays showed that the puck crossed the goal line before Hertl made contact, but the on-ice ruling was no goal.

The NHL announced later in the period that Peel wanted to conduct a video replay review of the play, but by rule, the play is not reviewable. So the Sharks were essentially robbed of a goal, because Peel made a call that he then second guessed, and could not overturn because of a formality in how the replay rules are written.

Hertl exacted some revenge late in the 2nd period, after the Sharks turned up the heat on Rinne. Defenseman Mattias Ekholm made things a bit easier by taking a slashing penalty at 16:28 of the period. San Jose worked the puck to the left point where Justin Braun uncorked a shot on net. Rinne could not control the rebound as Hertl sliced across the top of the crease from left to right. The Sharks forward grabbed the rebound and slipped it around Rinne's left pad for his 11th goal of the season.

"That Tierney line, I thought, was our best line tonight," added McLellan. "Our power play, our first group, which has been very strong all year, really struggled tonight. It was an opportunity for that second group to get out there and they got us the goal. It happened again on the empty netter, on the power play as well, so it was a great reward for those three."

The 3rd period has been a house of horrors for San Jose this season, and the Sharks looked as if they might be stringing their own noose when Patrick Marleau and Melker Karlsson took penalties in the final frame. The Predators 26th ranked power play helped matters by fumbling with the puck on both instances. San Jose killed both penalties, clinging to their slim one-goal lead.

Nashville had no problems putting pucks on net, throwing 12 more shots at Niemi in the period, but the Sharks netminder weathered the storm. His stop on Mike Ribeiro with 6 minutes to play was accented by the snow angel he was forced to make after making the save after losing sight of the puck.

The Sharks snuffed out any chance of a Nashville comeback with 3 minutes to play when Joe Pavelski got past Ekholm, drawing a holding penalty which was required to prevent a Sharks breakaway.

San Jose parlayed that penalty right before it was about to expire when the Predators pulled Rinne for the extra attacker. Tommy Wingels took a Chris Tierney pass at the Nashville blueline and skated it into the empty net for the insurance goal. Hertl earned the secondary assist for the 2 point night.

"We knew their power play is good," siad Predators defenseman Shea Weber. "So you can't take that many penalties. When you do, they're going to make you pay, so it ended up being the difference, one-nothing. Our power play's got to score, and our PK's got to be good as well."

"We played well, had a good game, a good night, but obviously came short," said Rinne. "They ended up scoring one goal. We created some chances, just didn't execute tonight. They played well. Their goalie played well, so disappointing loss."

Game Notes:

* Chris Tierney had assists on both goal, which marked the 3rd time this season that he's recorded a multi-point game.

* The shutout was the 32nd of Niemi's career. He's also 8-6-0-3 lifetime against the Predators.

* San Jose finished the evening 2-of-5 on the power play.

* The Sharks won a number of battles in the game, beating the Predators in hits, blocked shots, takeaways, and faceoff wins.





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Scoring
1 2 3 T
NSH 0 0 0 0
SJ 0 1 1 2
1st period - None.
2nd period - 1, SJ, Hertl 11 (Braun, Tierney), 16:41, (pp).
3rd period - 2, SJ, Wingels 14 (Tierney, Hertl), 19:01, (pp)(en).
Penalties
1st period - Forsberg, NSH (high sticking), 4:49; Rinne, NSH (delay of game - illegal play goalie), 11:16.
2nd period - Neal, NSH (tripping), 11:15; Ekholm, NSH (slashing), 16:28.
3rd period - Marleau, SJ (holding), 7:26; Karlsson, SJ (slashing), 14:20; Ekholm, NSH ( holding), 17:11.
Goaltending
Shots Saves
NSH - Rinne 20 19
NSH- empty net 1 0
SJ - Niemi 35 35
Shots On Goal
1 2 3 T
NSH 14 8 12 35
SJ 6 8 7 21
Power Play Conversion
NSH 0 of 2
SJ 2 of 5
3 Stars of the Game
Antti Niemi
Tomas Hertl
Chris Tierney
Attendance
17,562
Officials
Referees: St Laurent, Peel. Linesmen: MacPherson, Nansen.
Holiday Gifts at BustedTees

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