San Jose Sharks: Antti Niemi Caps Off Big Day with Win over Colorado Avalanche

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIMarch 2, 2011

Antti Niemi has been the Sharks best player for two months
Antti Niemi has been the Sharks best player for two monthsThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi had a big day Tuesday.

It started with him being named the NHL's second star of the month of February. He was 10-2 with a .940 save percentage and 1.88 goals against average with three shutouts despite 10 of the 13 games being played on the road.

To reward him, the Sharks inked him to a four-year contract extension that reported was worth just over $15 million. Niemi was signed to a one-year, $2 million contract this summer and would have become a free agent in July.

To reward them for the contract, Niemi went out and did what has become expected, saving 18 of 19 shots and all three in the shootout to lead the Sharks to a 2-1 win. He has held the opposition to no more than three goals in 22 straight games and had a save percentage of at least .900 in 19 of his last 24.

As a result, San Jose has 16 wins and 33 points in its last 19 games. But many of them have not come easily, with only one win by more than two goals since Christmas. Tuesday was the ninth of the 16 wins to come by only one goal, even though San Jose was hosting the fourth-worst team in the league.

The first two periods remained scoreless despite both teams having their accomplished power plays on the ice; Colorado had three chances. The Sharks had just 19 shots on goal and allowed just 10.

But the Avs changed things in a hurry in the third period on the power play, with new addition Erik Johnson getting his second goal since the monster trade last week. Despite a nearly 2:1 edge in shots on goal, the Sharks remained scoreless until the final three minutes of the the third period, when Joe Thornton tipped a Jason Demers shot past Brian Elliot to tie the game.

San Jose also out-shot Colorado 5-2 in overtime, but could not get the game-winner. Fortunately, Ryane Clowe got the first shootout shot by Elliot, and no one else on either team scored. For the second game in a row Clowe opted not to shoot his patented backhand and beat the goalie on the forehand, saying afterwards he saw Elliot cheating to the backhand side.

The Sharks controlled play throughout, attempting 86 shots to Colorado's 45. But the Avs won nearly every other battle to keep it close: blocked shots (28-11), hits (27-18), giveaways (9-15), takeaways (11-9), and faceoffs (30-29). They also took two fewer penalties than the Sharks and were the only ones to score on special teams.

The Sharks host the Detroit Red Wings Thursday at 7 p.m. PST. With a 2.5-game deficit and just 18 games to play, they need a win here if they are going to catch Detroit for playoff positioning.

However, the Sharks seeding is far less important than playing well going into the playoffs. Their playoff success is incumbent on the timely scoring and goaltending they have showcased this calendar year—click this piece on playoff predictions to see if it is enough to carry them into May.