It appears the reports of Antti Niemi’s demise as the Sharks top net minder may just be slightly premature.
On arguably one of the NHL’s biggest stages of Madison Square Garden, Niemi made 41 saves in what could only be described as a truly amazing performance.
Niemi’s performance in the net played a huge role in the Sharks 1-0 victory over the New York Rangers Sunday afternoon. Logan Couture scored the game’s only goal in the first period during a Sharks penalty kill at the 11:48 mark.
Throughout the contest the Rangers had the better scoring chances and more scoring opportunities than Team Teal would have. Outside of Couture’s goal, New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist had a strong game of his own with 28 saves on the day. Both goalies were dominant and in Niemi’s case, he had to be. The win gives the Sharks six straight victories as they take all three games on this brief Eastern swing before returning home to the Shark Tank this Tuesday night.
The Rangers, throughout the opening period, were clearly dominant, getting the game’s first five shots on goal.
Before the opening stanza was over New York would have 20 shots on Niemi. The Rangers were unable to capitalize on an early power play opportunity when Brent Burns was sent to the penalty box just 67 seconds into the contest.
Niemi would later in the period make huge back to back saves on a hard slap shot from Ryan McDonaugh followed by a wrister shot from Derick Brassard. This would not be the last time that either McDonaugh or Brassard would be turned away by the Team Teal netminder. Just over a minute later Niemi would make another phenomenal save on a close range slap shot by Mats Zuccarello.
Meanwhile, the Rangers’ Lundqvist was equally tough as he was able to stone Patrick Marleau at close range on the Sharks first shot of the game. Lundqvist would be as difficult on the Sharks as Niemi was on the Rangers as he took the best shots from Joe Pavelski, Burns, and Marleau, and turned each one away. Niemi’s best save of the period came with 41 seconds remaining when he was able to stone Brassard point-blank. To reach the puck, Niemi had to slide across the crease to get in position to deny the scoring chance and was able to get his blocker on the hot biscuit.
On the Sharks second penalty of the game, a tripping call on Scott Hannan the game would take a strange and usual turn.
Fifty seconds into the Rangers power play, Couture, quite the puck hawk, was able to steal the puck off of the stick of Zuccarello in the neutral zone as New York tried to bring it up ice. Couture, on a breakaway, was able to lift a wrister over the shoulder of Lundqvist and find the back of the Rangers’ net.
The Sharks had both a game changing short-handed goal and a one goal lead they would soon get very familiar with for the entire afternoon. The Sharks penalty kill here would manage a total of three short-handed chances, with the first one right off of the initial face-off. Lundqvist would have to make back-to-back saves of his own on hard slap shots from both Pavelski and Marleau. The Rangers would continue to peck away throughout the rest of the power play time and period, but would come away with a goose egg for their efforts.
Captain Nemo Does The Rest
Over the next two periods, the game would rest in the hands of Niemi, who apparently also got the memo.
The good news for the Sharks here was that Niemi picked the right day to be at his letter best. Despite the Sharks getting the more scoring opportunities in the middle period, it would be Niemi who would be the most valuable man on the ice for Team Teal. Niemi would only need to make seven saves in the second period however they would all prove to be huge ones. The Sharks would have a nervous moment late in the second period when a tip-in attempt by Benoit Pouliot was thought to have inched over the goal line. Play was delayed several minutes while the Pouliot’s play was under review. To the dissatisfaction of the MSG crowd the call on the ice stood as “No Goal”.
In the final period, the Rangers came out the aggressor in much the same way they did to start the game. Niemi would see 14 more shots he would need to save. Niemi would make huge saves on very close range attempts from Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards. Niemi, however, was not alone in defending the Sharks net as Marc-Edouard Vlasic had a hand in blocking a Ryan McDonagh shot. Dan Boyle, early in the third period, dove on the ice to put his body in between the puck and the Sharks net blocking another potential shot.
The Sharks weathered all the storms the Rangers would bring on the afternoon and when it was all said and done Team Teal came away with one of their hardest earned victories of the season.
Next Sharks Game-
The Sharks return home for a three game homestand that will feature visits from the Washington Capitals and the arch rival Anaheim Ducks. First up however will be the Florida Panthers who now feature former Canucks goalie and Shark nemeses Roberto Luongo. The Panthers come in on Tuesday Night (3/18) with the puck dropping a 7:30pm. This will be a huge game for Team Teal as they will want to keep their momentum going prior to the arch rivals coming into town.
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