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Niemi bests Kiprusoff in Sharks' 1-0 win

by Aaron Vickers
CALGARY -- For the second time in a week, the San Jose Sharks got the better of the Calgary Flames.
After being the Flames 2-1 in a shootout on Jan. 17 in San Jose, the Sharks topped Calgary 1-0 Tuesday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome, snapping a three-game losing streak courtesy of a marker midway through the third period from Benn Ferriero. Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi kicked out 25 shots for the shutout.
"We played well against them, both games, and a good solid road victory for us tonight," Ferriero said. "It feels good. They're in the Western Conference. If you want to stay ahead you have to beat those teams."

Ferriero's goal -- his sixth of the season -- at 11:35 of the third period stood up to be the difference.

After Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff took Dan Boyle's point shot off the chest, he got a shoulder on Logan Couture's rebound. With the puck in the air, Ferriero came cruising through the crease, gloved it down and calmly put it into the net to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead.

"It was a regroup up from Boyler to me and I chipped it on to Patty Marleau skating in with speed," Ferriero said. "He pulled up and found Dan trailing the play. It was a shot, rebound and I fanned on the first one. Logan was banging away and it popped up in the air and grabbed it, put it down and had an empty netter."

The goal came after some early third period heroics from Niemi.

Just 20 seconds in, Jarome Iginla let go on a shot from the blue line that was blocked by Marc-Edouard Vlasic. With the puck sitting just inside the zone, Mikael Backlund blasted one himself, but Niemi was up to the challenge.

Niemi then turned aside a Michael Cammalleri redirect off a pass from Backlund at the half wall at 5:09. Thirty-five seconds later, the Sharks' goaltender then stopped Alex Tanguay on a partial breakaway.

Ferriero put the Sharks up shortly thereafter.

"I thought we found a sense of intensity in the third and the sense of desperation we needed but once again, too little too late, and we give up that goal that obviously kills us," Cammalleri said. "It's the National Hockey League, you always have to give credit to the opponent as well but at the same time we'd like to make things harder on our opponent."

Niemi wouldn't relinquish the lead. With Kiprusoff on the bench for the extra attacker with 1:30 left to play, Niemi turned aside Iginla's shot from the point seconds after an initial attempt by the Flames' captain grazed the side of the net.

Niemi then kicked out a pair of Olli Jokinen shots from the half wall in a span of four seconds, preserving the win for San Jose.

"Unbelievable," said Ferriero. "We've come to expect it from him, that's how good of a goalie he is. He plays like that night in and night out. He helps us win games and tonight was no different."

Niemi said he was motivated by the task of out-dueling his countryman in Kiprusoff.

"It's always the big challenge playing against him," Niemi said. "He's been great this season too. I have to play my best."

Both teams got off to a slow start in the game. It took San Jose over six minutes to record its first shot on Kiprusoff, while Calgary's first puck on Niemi didn't come until 9:15 in.

Once both teams shook off the start, goaltending took over.

Niemi was forced to make a right pad save at 12:49 on a wrap-around attempt by Lee Stempniak, who recorded a hat trick in Calgary's 6-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers Saturday. Niemi's pad was equally effective on Stempniak's spinning shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle.

Kiprusoff equaled Niemi's efforts, turning aside all five shots faced in the period. That included Couture's deflection off of Ferriero's blast from the blue line. Kiprusoff turned away the initial offering, as well as the rebound attempt in a sprawling effort with less than a minute left in the opening period.

The second started no better for Calgary. It took the Flames 10:53 to record their first shot of the period, a weak wrister from the point off the stick of Jay Bouwmeester. It was just one of three pucks that made it to Niemi in the period.

Kiprusoff was much busier, making 11 of his 26 saves on the night in the period. His best came off Jim Vandermeer, who streaked through the slot after a lengthy cycle down low by San Jose. Kiprusoff got a pad on both Vandermeer's initial shot and Brad Winchester's rebound at 4:11 to keep the game scoreless through 40 minutes.

The win puts San Jose alone atop the Pacific Division heading into the All Star break, two points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings. The Sharks also have three games at hand.

"It's a huge win for us," Ferriero said. "Good solid road victory and ends this segment of games on a high note going into the break doing well."
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