Niemi leads Sharks past Penguins 2-1 in shootout
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Antti Niemi did his best to make sure a blown third-period lead didn’t lead to another disheartening loss for the San Jose Sharks.
Niemi made 39 saves and stopped seven of eight shootout attempts to lead the Sharks to their 10th straight home win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1 on Monday night.
Niemi helped San Jose kill a penalty in overtime, stopped several odd-man rushes in the extra session and was almost perfect in the shootout to give the Sharks a needed boost in their playoff push.
”Maybe a win like that injects some life and emotion into a team because of how excited everyone was,” said Tommy Wingels, who scored the shootout winner. ”Just keep going and keep the gas pedal down.”
After Wingels beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a backhand in the eighth round of the shootout, Niemi made it stand up by stopping Steve Downie.
Matt Nieto scored the lone regulation goal for the Sharks, who had lost nine of their previous 10 home games overall.
But they have dominated the Penguins at the Shark Tank of late. San Jose has 11 wins and one tie since its last home loss to the Penguins on Oct. 22, 1997.
Sidney Crosby tied the game earlier in the third with his first goal in seven career games against the Sharks.
”We played a pretty game and we deserved better,” Crosby said. ”I thought all third period long we had some really good chances. It was nice to get one. It would have been nice to get the win.”
The Sharks killed a penalty in overtime and survived Derrick Pouliot hitting the post in the closing seconds before winning it in the shootout.
Melker Karlsson scored in the third round for San Jose, and Kris Letang answered for Pittsburgh for the only goals in the tiebreaker before Wingels’ winner.
The Sharks moved three points behind Calgary in the race for third place in the Pacific Division with Los Angeles one point ahead of San Jose. The Flames have played one fewer game than San Jose, and the Kings have two games in hand.
”That point could make a heck of a difference,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of winning the shootout. ”We all know where we are, we all know how important they are. We can’t afford to give any away. We’ve done that too often and too much.”
The Penguins remained in third place in the Metropolitan Division, one point behind the New York Rangers and four in back of the Islanders.
After numerous chances in the first two periods, the Penguins finally got one past Niemi midway through the third. Justin Braun failed to keep a puck in at the blue line, and Pittsburgh quickly attacked. Crosby took a pass from David Perron and beat Niemi with a backhand to the far post to tie the game at 1.
But that’s all they could manage despite a strong drive at the end.
”We got the goal but I thought we had a big push, unfortunately we just couldn’t convert some of the chances we had,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said.
Niemi played one of his best games of the season to help boost the Sharks’ dwindling playoff chances. He kept San Jose in the game early as Pittsburgh started fast, and then withstood a few barrages in the second period to help preserve the lead.
In one particularly strong sequence midway through the second, Niemi stopped Evgeni Malkin on a rush up ice, and then sprawled back into position to get his pad on a rebound attempt by Chris Kunitz.
”I thought Nemo was terrific,” McLellan said. ”Maybe his best game this season. First saves, second saves. Those are some very gifted, skilled players that are getting some good looks.”
Despite getting outplayed for much of the first period, San Jose came out of it with a 1-0 lead when Ben Smith took the puck away from Letang behind the net, and Chris Tierney fed Nieto in front for the goal.
NOTES: The Penguins went 0-for-12 on the power play over the four-game trip. … The Sharks scored first for the sixth straight game.