In a stellar goaltending battle between this season's Vezina Trophy favorite and the reigning Stanley Cup champion in his first season with a new club, Antti Niemi outdueled Tim Thomas and made an early power-play goal from Logan Couture stand up as the San Jose Sharks beat the Boston Bruins 2-0 on Saturday afternoon.
Devin Setoguchi added an empty-net goal with 2.1 seconds remaining for San Jose, which has won seven of its last eight games and moved into fourth place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of Nashville, which was to host Detroit on Saturday night.
Niemi, who helped the Chicago Blackhawks end a 49-year championship drought as a rookie, made 26 saves for his third shutout of the season and the 10th of his career. Niemi became a free agent over the summer when the Blackhawks walked away from his arbitration award, and he has taken over the undisputed No. 1 job with the Sharks thanks to his strong play of late and an injury to Antero Niittymaki.
"I think our team made it very easy for me to see the puck and block the hard ones. It wasn't too bad," Niemi said. "We knew they had big, strong guys and they are. They were trying to be at our net and in front, and trying to make the good screens. I think they did. I lost the pucks a few times, but I think our 'D' did a good job of clearing them out for me."
Thomas, who leads the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage and is tied for the lead in wins and shutouts, stopped 16 of the 17 shots he faced. Boston, which leads the Northeast Division, saw its three-game winning streak come to an end.
"I think we had some chances and we had some really good chances as well, but we didn't bury them tonight," coach Claude Julien said. "Tonight was a challenge of two heavy teams, and I think we needed to play a little heavier than we did."
Sharks center Joe Thornton, the No. 1 pick in the 1997 Entry Draft by the Bruins, was held without a point or shot on goal in 18:02 of ice time during his third trip back to TD Garden. Thornton was called for tripping with 9:50 left in the third period, but San Jose held Boston without a shot on the man advantage.
"It is going to be tight right down to Game 82," Thornton said. "We have been playing well lately and we have to continue it to get into the playoffs."
Couture's 23rd goal of the season came at 7:22 of the first, after the Bruins were penalized for too many men on the ice. Couture cut through the high slot and lifted a backhander over Thomas. Ryane Clowe and Marc-Edouard Vlasic assisted on the goal.
"Vlasic made a great play in the neutral zone to break out," Couture said. "They had a 2-on-2 and they turned it over. He hit a great stick and kind of turned it back on an odd-man rush and we capitalized on it. I don't know if it was a lucky bounce. I think it was just a great play."
Thomas seemed to agree.
"We got caught on a funny change there on the penalty kill," he said. "We tried to recover, it was a 3-on-2, and that Logan Couture's on fire this year. He came in and cut across the slot with a backhand, and backhands are hard to read, where they're going. Actually, as he was releasing the puck, I read a little bit higher blocker and I started to lift my blocker and then I came back down with it, trying to close up the hole, because that's what backhands do to you, they handcuff you somehow. They're funny shots."
The Sharks thought they had doubled their lead in the second period, but Ben Eager made contact with Thomas before Douglas Murray's shot went in the net and the goal was disallowed.
Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.