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Niemi keeps Pens at bay
Sharks win 2-1 in the shootout
3/9/15 - By Mike Lee -

If the Sharks have any plans on salvaging their season, they're going to need their goaltenders to steal a few games. That's exactly what Antti Niemi did on Monday night, as the Sharks withstood a barrage from the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins at SAP Center. Niemi stopped 39 shots in regulation and overtime, then denied 7 shooters in the shootout to help the Sharks for only the 2nd time at home in their last 11 games.

Niemi had to be on top of his game from the get go, after the Penguins stormed out of the gate with a 15 shot opening period. San Jose actually had two power play chances in the period, but was still out-shot 15-6 in the period.

The Sharks managed a single paltry shot in those two power play chances, failing to convert on either, but they would squeeze out a goal late in the period, right after a Rob Scuderi cross checking penalty expired.

With the top two lines chasing the puck for most of the period, the Sharks received their offensive production from Matt Nieto, Chris Tierney and Ben Smith. The 3rd liners used their limited opportunity to score the only non-shootout goal of the evening for San Jose at 19:03 of the opening period.

Smith chased a puck along the end boards, picking Kris Letang's pocket and pulling the puck back to Tierney who had slipped behind the Penguins right post. Tierney slid the puck out to the left side of the crease where Nieto was lurking for the quick snipe. Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury overcommitted to Tierney and was late to cutoff the left side of the goal, which is exactly where Nieto deposited it.

San Jose reciprocated with their own penalties in the 2nd period, putting the Penguins on the power play twice themselves. Letang pushed the Sharks buttons by mixing it up with anyone within reach on every whistle.

Joe Thornton bit early in the period, earning a trip to the box for roughing on David Perron. Joe Pavelski obliged the Penguins later in the period by slashing Sydney Crosby to put the Penguins in the power play for a second time. In both instances, Niemi came up big to deny the Sharks guests from Pennsylvania.

As was the case in the 1st period, the team with the pair of power play chances ended up getting out-shot by their opponent. The Sharks won the middle period with 15 shots, to Pittsburgh's 9.

The Penguins finally solved Niemi 7:22 into the 3rd period, when a Sharks turnover ended up on Crosby's stick as he raced up the right wing. Pittsburgh's captain beat Melker Karlsson up the ice and slipped a backhand shot into the Sharks net as Marc-Edouard Vlasic tried to take away the low shot with a stick check.

The game's momentum turned entirely in Pittsburgh's favor at that point. The Penguins controlled the remainder of the period, and during a 4 minute stretch late, the puck never left the Sharks zone. Once again it was Niemi who stood on his head to help reach overtime.

As if the Penguins pressure wasn't enough to deal with, Tommy Wingels tossed the puck over the glass in the defensive zone with 27 seconds left in regulation to put Pittsburgh on the power play. The infraction would carry over to the overtime period, which became more contentious for San Jose because a skater was removed from the ice for both teams.

The open ice favored the Penguins, who had turned up the heat to try and score a game-winner in the extra frame. The Sharks killed off the remaining 1:33 of the penalty, but then both teams decided to forgo any semblance of defense for the balance of the overtime period.

The two teams combined for five separate 2-on-1 breaks, but Niemi and Fleury turned aside every chance.

The shootout could have been decided in the 3rd round when Karlsson beat Fleury, but Letang decided to be a thorn in the Sharks side one last time, by beating Niemi.

The skills competition extended to an 8th round after Thornton clanked a shot off the crossbar two rounds earlier. In the decisive 8th frame, Wingels deeked Fleury with a head-fake to the right before pulling the puck left and lifting a backhand shot that found net.

Niemi was up to the task with the game hinging on the outcome of Pittsburgh's chance to shoot. Steve Downie tried to go 5-hole on Niemi, but the door was quickly shut, as the Sharks netminder earned his 26th win of the season.

Game Notes:

* Brent Burns played in his 700th career NHL game.

* Smith's assist on Nieto's goal gives him 3 points in 4 games since the Sharks acquired him from Chicago.

* The Sharks once again failed to sellout the game, which was a surprise given the opponent. Penguins fans certainly took advantage of the availability of tickets, as a large contingent descended on SAP Center.


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1 2 3 OT SO T
PIT 0 0 1 0 0 1
SJ 1 0 0 0 1 2
1st period - 1, SJ, Nieto 7 (Tierney, Smith), 19:03.
2nd period - None.
3rd period - 2, PIT, Crosby 22 (Perron, Letang), 7:22.
Overtime - None.
Shootout - SJ: Pavelski (miss), Couture (miss), Karlsson (goal), Marleau (miss), Burns (miss), Thornton (miss), Hertl (miss), Wingels (goal). PIT: Perron (miss), Crosby (miss), Letang (goal), Malkin (miss), Kunitz (miss), Sutter (miss), Bennett (miss), Downie (miss).
1st period - Downie, PIT (tripping), 7:27; Scuderi, PIT (cross checking), 17:00.
2nd period - Thornton, SJ (roughing), 3:29; Pavelski, SJ (slashing), 12:07; Vlasic, SJ (holding), 14:57; Perron, PIT (holding), 14:57.
3rd period - Downie, PIT (holding the stick), 10:47; Kunitz, PIT (roughing), 13:13; Hertl, SJ (roughing), 13:13; Wingels, SJ (delay of game - puck over glass), 19:33.
Overtime - None.
Shots Saves
PIT - Fleury 30 29
SJ - Niemi 40 39
Shots On Goal
1 2 3 OT T
PIT 15 9 13 3 40
SJ 6 15 8 1 30
Power Play Conversion
PIT 0 of 3
SJ 0 of 3
3 Stars of the Game
Antti Niemi
Marc-Andre Fleury
Chris Tierney
Referees: Dwyer, O'Rourke. Linesmen: Cvik, Lazarowich.
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