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Niemi stopped 27 shots for his second shutout in as many nights as the Sharks beat the Detroit Red Wings 2-0 at HP Pavilion on Thursday.
Niemi, who made 22 saves in a 4-0 victory against Anaheim on Wednesday, posted consecutive shutouts for the third time in his NHL career, all as a Shark. Two seasons ago, he blanked the Boston Bruins on Feb. 5, 2011, and the Washington Capitals three days later, both on the road. Last season he shut out the Calgary Flames on the road, just before the All-Star break. A week later, he shut out the Columbus Blue Jackets at home.
This marked the first time in his career that Niemi posted shutouts on back-to-back nights and the first time that's happened in Sharks history.
"I felt good after last night," Niemi said. "I thought I was able to be real patient and wait for the pucks and then react. I wasn't cheating or expecting anything else. I was just reading the play. That's a confidence thing for sure."
Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns scored for the Sharks, who won their third straight game -- their longest streak since winning seven straight to open the season -- and have won the first two games on their seven-game home stand.
Pavelski and Burns each scored a goal for the third straight game, helping the Sharks climb into sole possession of seventh place in the Western Conference with 38 points, two points ahead of the St. Louis Blues and one behind Detroit.
"I think we’re pretty confident in our team," Burns said. "Obviously it’s been a little bit of a tough time there, a little bit of a dip. We have great players on this team. Sometimes you can start to feel that lag. I think it’s been good. We’re starting to realize we have a great team here. We can do great things if we believe in ourselves. We have to play that certain style and we’ve been doing that these last few games."
Detroit's three-game winning streak came to the end, but the Red Wings finished their four-game road trip with a 3-1-0 record, grabbing six of a possible eight points.
Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard stopped 22 of 24 shots.
"It was a real good road trip and we did a lot of good things tonight," coach Mike Babcock said. "There wasn't a lot to choose between the teams. We just had a tough break.
"I thought we were in good shape in the first period and we got better and better. In the end we didn't get enough going offensively."
Pavelski gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 18:59 of the first period with his 10th goal of the season. He scored for the third straight game since being switched from a second-line wing to a third-line center. Linemates Ryane Clowe and TJ Galiardi each earned an assist on the goal.
Pavelski won a battle for the puck along the boards behind the net and scored on a wraparound shot that bounced off Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall's skate and past Howard.
"Obviously our whole team hasn't got many of those," Pavelski said of the fortunate bounce. "It's one of those things when they come, you welcome them."
Kronwall and the Red Wings, who had their five-game road winning streak snapped, were on the wrong side of that bounce.
"We had some turnovers," Kronwall said. "That's it. I think it just went off my skate and straight in. Going back for years, and in the playoffs, we know each other so well that there is not a lot of room out there. At the same time, we gave up a couple. I didn't think we had a lot of energy in the third."
After a scoreless second period, Burns gave the Sharks some breathing room at 2:07 of the third. The goal was Burns' fifth of the season; all of them have come since he was switched from a defenseman to a right wing on March 12 against St. Louis. He has 10 points in nine games as a top-line forward.
Joe Thornton earned the assist after taking the puck away from defenseman Brian Lashoff deep in Detroit's zone and passing the puck to Burns, who ripped a shot over Howard's glove and inside the right post.
"I think we might have been lacking a little bit [of] scoring up front," Thornton said of Burns' switch to forward. "I think when [Burns] came up, it definitely gave us another forward capable of scoring and kind of turned the tides for us."
Both teams played a remarkably clean game. The first and only penalty of the game didn't come until just 9:16 remained when Sharks forward TJ Galiardi was called for hooking. For the first time in Sharks history, an opponent went an entire game without a penalty. The one penalty and two penalty minutes set Sharks records for fewest combined penalties and penalty minutes.
"Fast, hard, fairly clean," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the game. "There weren’t situations where either coach was up in arms because of a missed call. The officials did a good job as well."
The Red Wings had scored at least one power-play goal in eight straight games before Thursday, but the Sharks killed that power play with Niemi making a handful of saves, including on a shot from Henrik Zetterberg from close range.
"When we have had little mistakes, he's bailed us out," Pavelski said of Niemi. "He made some big saves there. That on Zetterberg, toward the end of the power play, that's a huge save at that moment."
Niemi improved to 9-2-2 all-time against Detroit, a team he often faced while playing for the Chicago Blackhawks and one that usually brings the best out of him.
"I think just they've been one of the top teams for a long time so they have lots of skill," Niemi said. "I think it's been a rivalry here against them, too. I think it's fun playing them. It's always a little bigger game against them."
When the Sharks and Red Wings met on Feb. 28 in San Jose, they combined for just two goals with Detroit winning 2-1 in a shootout. The rematch had much the same feel with neither team able to generate much offense or good scoring chances.
"It was tight both ways," Zetterberg said. "There were not a lot of chances both ways. We got halted on the rush, but we also kept them to the outside. The first goal was off a skate, and the second one was a giveaway. That's about it."
Red Wings forward Johan Franzen left the game in the second period with a lower-body injury and did not return. Babcock had no update on his condition.
"We'll go back and take a look at it," Babcock said. "We don't know much."
Red Wings associate coach Tom Renney, who attended a memorial service for his mother Thursday afternoon in British Columbia, was not with the team.
|TJ Galiardi Hooking against Jakub Kindl|