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Niemi holds off Sharks' second-period surge

by Dan Rosen
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- He didn't even know how the puck got to Ryane Clowe at the right post, but Antti Niemi figured in a flash that he better stick out his glove hand to stop the shot coming off Clowe's stick.

Good call. Unbelievable save. Exclamation point.

Niemi's highway robbery on Clowe, the Sharks' big winger, with 4:13 left in the second period was the highlight of his fantastic second period and the culmination of the hardest and probably most intense two minutes the Chicago Blackhawks had to play Sunday afternoon at HP Pavilion to earn their 2-1 victory.

"Those are the types of plays that give you confidence," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "If that goes in, it's a whole different game."

Niemi, who reached his glove back to stop Clowe's shot inches before the goal line, made eight saves during a two-minute Sharks' power play late in the second period when Brent Seabrook was in the box for a needless holding penalty on Kent Huskins.

He made 12 saves over the final 5:06 of the period as the Hawks withstood the Sharks furious rally to preserve a 1-1 tie heading into the second intermission. Chicago's final shot of the period came with 6:42 still left before intermission. San Jose had the rest.

"Always after a fast or a quick shot, you might make the save and think afterwards, 'Where did he get the puck?'" said Niemi, who finished with 18 saves in the second period and a playoff-high 44 for the game. "I just saw (Clowe) standing pretty much at the post with an empty net and I just wanted to get my hand in the way."

"He's very quick," Clowe said. "If you can consciously try to get it upstairs, you might have more success, but sometimes it's hard. It's a fast-paced game."

The game essentially turned on Niemi's save, but the momentum shift was felt once the period was over and the Hawks were still kicking around in a tie game.

"Going into the third period, in a tough building like this with a tie game, that's a huge opportunity for us and I thought (the third) was our best period," said Patrick Sharp, who scored the first Chicago goal. "(Niemi) got the momentum for us and we were able to capitalize."

Chicago had 13 shots through the first 13 minutes of the third period and finally scored on its 14th when Dustin Byfuglien powered a slap shot through Evgeni Nabokov from between the circles at 13:15.

"We weathered the storm so to speak," Seabrook said. "They had their chances and we did a good job keeping the puck out of the net. We came in here as a confident group and went out there for the third and played hard."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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