Niemi leads Sharks to 2-0 victory over Blackhawks
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) More than four years after leaving Chicago, Antti Niemi still takes pleasure in beating the team he once helped win a Stanley Cup title.
Niemi made 31 saves in his 31st career shutout and the San Jose Sharks won their third straight game by beating the Blackhawks 2-0 on Saturday night.
''It's still a little special even though it's been a while,'' said Niemi, who left the Blackhawks for San Jose after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. ''They're still one of the top teams in the league so it's always good to win against them.''
Melker Karlsson scored early and Joe Thornton added an empty-net goal for the Sharks, who got their first regulation win over the Blackhawks since Feb. 10, 2012.
Niemi did the rest against his former team as San Jose followed up wins over defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles and NHL points leader Anaheim with one against perennial cup contender Chicago.
Antti Raanta made 19 saves for the Blackhawks, who were shut out for the fourth time this season. Chicago lost two of three on the post-All-Star break California swing, with the win coming Friday night in Anaheim.
''He played awesome,'' defenseman Brent Burns said. ''He's real sturdy back there. We feel good when he's there. We know he's there to back us up if they get a good chance, and he showed it tonight.''
The Sharks struck early to take the lead when Raanta struggled to control a shot by Matt Irwin. Karlsson batted at the rebound and it deflected into the net for his eighth goal of the season.
Niemi took the game after that, especially in a brilliant second period when he kept Chicago off the scoreboard despite a 15-6 edge in shots on goal.
''We just couldn't really get that one into the net in the second period,'' captain Jonathan Toews said. ''We were creating a lot of chances off the rushes we had.''
Niemi made a pair of tough saves early in the second on Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad. He then stopped Marian Hossa on a 2-on-1 rush midway through the period and came up with his best saves when the Sharks were on the power play late in the second.
Toews came in alone on a breakaway and Niemi got a piece of his initial shot. The puck trickled past him and was on the way into the net before Niemi swept it off the goal line with his stick. Toews then got two more whacks at the rebound, but Niemi managed to stop those while lying on the ice with help from defenseman Brent Burns.
''Nemo made the first save, it was dribbling in. He made the second save,'' coach Todd McLellan said. ''We flew by the situation, which we shouldn't have, so we had to make the third and maybe even the fourth save. It could have been the turning point, it really could have, giving up a short-handed goal at that point. Nemo was there for us.''
Toews had the puck again for another shot, but the referees blew the play dead on a quick whistle.
''I wasn't too happy with that,'' Toews said. ''He thought it was frozen. It is what it is. We should have scored on the first rush.''
After Raanta made key stops on Barclay Goodrow and Matt Nieto early in the third to keep the deficit at one goal, Niemi responded again with a tough save against Saad.
''It was one of those games where you thought you felt something was going to come eventually and it didn't happen,'' Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. ''I think we are on the right track here.''
NOTES: Niemi had two shutouts against the Blackhawks, beating them 1-0 on Nov. 23, 2011. ... Thornton assisted on Karlsson's goal giving him at least 30 assists in 15 straight seasons. ... Sharks F Tye McGinn left the game after the first period with an undisclosed injury and did not return.