Sharks 1, Flyers 0

After struggling to stop anybody during a grueling nine-game
road trip, Antti Niemi and the San Jose Sharks stopped everything
against the NHL’s most prolific offense.

Ryane Clowe scored the lone goal early in the first period, and
Niemi made it stand up with 26 saves for his fifth shutout as the
Sharks celebrated their return home by beating the Philadelphia
Flyers 1-0 on Tuesday night.

”He had struggled a little bit but I think tonight he played
great, saw all the pucks,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said.
”This should definitely get his confidence back. He looked good
and comfortable. It was nice to see.”

The Sharks had gone 2-6-1 on the 17-day trip that knocked them
out of first place in the Pacific Division and into a precarious
position for a playoff berth.

With little room for error in the final quarter of the season,
the Sharks managed to hold on thanks to a strong bounceback
performance by Niemi to beat the Flyers for the ninth straight
time.

Niemi lost four of five games on the trip and didn’t even make
it out of the first period in two of those games. But he was up to
the task in his first meeting against the Flyers since beating them
to win the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010.

The Sharks allowed 35 goals during the road trip but gave up
none to the NHL’s highest-scoring team, surviving a wild scramble
in front of the net in the final minute when Torrey Mitchell and
Daniel Winnik blocked shots, and Niemi made a save in the final
seconds against Scott Hartnell.

”It was a perfect defensive game against the best offensive
team in the league,” defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. ”We set
the bar pretty high. If we can do it against them we can do it
against any team.”

Ilya Bryzgalov made 22 saves for the Flyers, robbing Thornton
and TJ Galiardi early in the third period to keep the deficit at
one. But Philadelphia never got the equalizer and remained 11
points behind the first-place New York Rangers in the Atlantic
Division. Philadelphia was shut out for the second time in three
games, also losing 2-0 last Thursday in Edmonton.

”It’s kind of tough when most of the shots from the defense are
getting blocked,” Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr said. ”We have to
find a way to somehow get it in. Maybe shoot quicker a little bit,
I don’t know. We’re waiting too much. We have to find better
timing.”

The Flyers briefly lost forward Danny Briere late in the third
period when his head crashed into the boards following a hit from
behind by Vlasic. There was no penalty called on the play, and
Briere returned.

”It seemed like a tough call,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette
said. ”It seemed like (Vlasic) pushed him head first, and somebody
can get hurt like that. But I haven’t seen it to comment on it.
He’s fine. Right now he is anyway.”

The game marked the San Jose debuts for Winnik and Galiardi,
acquired before Monday’s NHL trade deadline for forward Jamie
McGinn and two prospects.

But the Sharks were far from complete as All-Star forward Logan
Couture sat out with a lower body injury after taking three hard
hits in Minnesota on Sunday. Defenseman Douglas Murray remained
sidelined by a throat injury, and coach Todd McLellan missed the
game with concussion symptoms after being hit in the head by a
stick in Minnesota. Assistants Matt Shaw and Jay Woodcroft ran the
team in his place.

The Sharks got off to a fast start in their first home game
since Feb. 10, with Clowe beating Bryzgalov with a wrist shot just
1:22 in. Niemi, who struggled most of February, did the rest. He
made a pad save on a deflection, and stopped Brayden Schenn’s
rebound attempt in the closing seconds of the period.

”That’s the Nemo that we know,” Shaw said. ”He has that
ability to win us a game, and he did that.”

The teams combined for just 13 shots in the second, with the
Flyers failing on two power-play chances, and the Sharks unable to
convert on their opportunity with the man advantage.

Bryzgalov kept it a one-goal game with a strong stop against
Patrick Marleau, who was alone in front in the closing minutes of
the second.

NOTES: The Sharks had the lead after the first period for just
the 15th time in 62 games this season. They are 12-2-1 in those
situations. … The Flyers haven’t won back-to-back games since
Jan. 10-12 at Carolina and the New York Islanders. … Philadelphia
was shut out for the fifth time this season. … Niemi has 18
career shutouts.