Niemi Outlasts The Desert Dogs- San Jose Sharks Goalie Antti Niemi posted 35 saves, including 16 in the third period as team teal took an all important game against the Phoenix Coyotes 4-0 in the Valley of the Sun Monday night. Niemi stood tall during a very busy first period and continued to come up huge when it counted. Goals from Logan Couture, Tommy Wingles, Joe Pavelski and Matt Irwin were more than enough to help to pull the Sharks to within one point of the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Standings. The Sharks will have very little time to enjoy their triumph in the desert as they return home to face those same visitors from LA Tuesday night at the Shark Tank. Niemi’s shutout of the Coyotes was the third of the season he’s pitched against Phoenix. The Sharks with the win also snapped a four game losing streak in the desert that dates back to the 2010-11 season.
Coyotes Pack Attack Niemi- The Coyotes to their credit actually employed a smart strategy by attacking the net early and often letting Niemi know he was going to be the busiest man in the State of Arizona for the next three hours and change. Niemi was certainly that as often times he faced attacks that by the end of the night would enable the Sharks netminder to make out the who’s who of the Coyotes team photo. Niemi early was tested point blank by Mikkel Boedker who drilled a blazing point blank shot at Niemi. The shot actually did get past the Sharks netminder however hit the left side post and bounced back towards Niemi, who fell on the puck for the save. Shane Doan also had a close range test of Niemi drilling a shot sharp angle towards the net. Again, the Sharks netminder was more than ready for it and denied Doan. Phoenix’s Boyd Gordon also had a sharp angle shot on goal from near point blank range which Couture dove in front of to block almost midway through the period. As the first period and the evening went on, this would be a reoccurring theme for Phoenix. By the time the first period had ended, Niemi had out away 12 saves.
Not to be outdone, the Sharks also tested Coyotes netminder Jason LaBarbera who also stood tall in the opening frame with 10 saves. LaBarbera, who was starting in place of the injured Mike Smith, made some huge saves on Martin Havlat, Joe Thornton, Pavelski and Couture.
The Teal Surge- The battle of the goalies continued into the second period as both Niemi and LaBarbera held their respective forts. However it was the Sharks who would come out as the aggressors putting 24 shots in LaBarbera, more shots than the Sharks have had in a few entire games this season. LaBarbera in the period would actually come away with a personal best making 21 saves in the twenty minute stanza. The problem for the Coyotes however was that 21 saves would not be enough. The Sharks broke the seal on the scoreboard almost midway through the middle period. Working from behind the boards, Patrick Marleau fed a pass over to Jason Demers at the right point. Demers drilled a blistering slap shot that LaBarbera saved. However LaBarbera never controlled the rebound which went directly to Couture, who hammered the puck past the Coyotes netminder into the left corner of the net to give the Sharks the lead.
Moments later team teal would strike again off of a faceoff which really neither team won as the puck just floated loosely. Wingles would be the first man to the puck and backhanded a shot that beat LaBarbera top shelf to extend the team teal lead to 2-0. The two goals within two and a half minutes of each other seemed to take the wind out of the sails for the Coyotes who by this time were starting to get completely dominated.
The Sharks later in the period would extend their lead to three. On a break away former Coyote Raffi Torres, making his first trip back to the desert since being traded to the Sharks on April 3rd, took control of the puck at center ice. Once Torres was across the blue line he found Pavelski on the right point and made a perfect feed pass. Pavelski took Torres’ feed pass and drilled a laser past LaBarbera. The Sharks towards the end of the period just missed a fourth goal as TJ Galiardi’s scoring attempt was denied at the last second by LaBarbera. The Sharks defensively held the Coyotes to just seven shots on goal in the middle period. Alexandre Bolduc’s point blank back handed attempt on Niemi was the closest Phoenix came to denting the scoreboard.
Closing Time- After a dominant second period, the Sharks holding a 3-0 lead were determined to turn back any Phoenix hopes of getting back into the contest. The Coyotes again would test Niemi heavily throughout the period. The best save for the Sharks netminder came off of a blistering attempt by Radim Vrbata which Niemi was just quick enough to stop. Scoring attempts from Martin Hanzal, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle would all be turned away at the gate. The Sharks sealed the game when Matt Irwin scored a power play goal with 1:27 remaining. The Sharks with the win finished a 2-2-0 road trip which started with a lousy performance in Columbus, but a strong finish in Phoenix.
Shark Bytes- The three stars of the game were 3) Joe Pavelski; 2) Tommy Wingles; and 1) Antti Niemi with his 35 saves total. The Sharks now have 51 points in the Western Conference Standings heading home for their final home stand of the regular season. The Sharks final homestand begins Tuesday Night versus the LA Kings. The Minnesota Wild come in Thursday Night, Columbus on Sunday, and Dallas a week from Tuesday. A fourth star and honorable mention goes to the Phoenix Coyotes Keith Yandle, who wrote on his skates a reminder to pray for the people of Boston who were effected by a major tragedy at the Boston Marathon earlier in the day. A moment of silence was had before the game in honor of the victims of the apparent Terror Attack in Boston. The Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators in response to the tragedy postponed their game Monday night in Boston with a reschedule date to be determined.
Next Sharks Game- Tuesday Night at the Shark Tank as the Sharks take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings in a battle for playoff positioning and a possible preview of a post season match up. Puck drop at the Shark Tank is 7:30pm PT. The game can be seen on CSN Calif Plus, Fox Sports West as well as heard on the Sharks Radio Network (98.5FM San Jose/102.1 San Francisco) …
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