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Niemi Set Tone In Game 7 Victory

by Jim Sparaco / San Jose Sharks
San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (31) shakes hands with Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (35) after the Sharks defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in Game 7 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinal playoff series Thursday, May 12, 2011, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Although they insist it wasn’t an area of focus heading into Thursday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, the San Jose Sharks elevated the play of their special teams to skate to an impressive3-2 victory and clinch the second-round series over the Central Division champs and to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the second consecutive year.

The Sharks, who had been shut out on the power play (0 for 10) during the three consecutive losses in the series which forced the decisive Game Seven, tallied a power play goal in the first period to give the Sharks the early lead and to break the scoreless drought. Devin Setoguchi took the feed from Joe Thornton at 12:20 of the first period to score his sixth goal of the playoffs and set the tone for the game while electrifying a sold out HP Pavilion.

“The power play’s taken a lot of heat thus far,” said Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle. “We scored a big power play goal early in the game to get things going and we killed off four huge penalties tonight. We didn’t talk about it necessarily that much, but it came through in our play.”

“Although we don’t talk about it as much, I think special teams is a focus of every series,” added Setoguchi. “The team that can win the special team battles is going to win the series most likely. If you’re winning the power play battle and you’re winning the penalty kill battle you have a good chance at the end of the night that you’re going to win the game. We got a quick power play goal and our penalty kill did a great job and we got the win.”

San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi blocks a Detroit Red Wings shot during the second period of Game 7 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinal playoff series Thursday, May 12, 2011, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
The Sharks created a multitude of scoring opportunities and quality chances while on the power play to keep the Red Wings back on their heels and more importantly, kept Detroit from taking liberties with the Sharks while skating five-on-five.

Of equal importance, the Sharks were perfect on the penalty kill, successfully killing four Detroit power plays in the game including two big penalty kills in the third period including a slashing penalty against Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell at 14:57.

“The difference tonight is a power play goal and our penalty kill,” added Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “I thought we had a pretty good plan tonight. They beat us with a drop pass a lot in the series so we adjusted a little bit. We felt that if we didn’t allow them any free entries into our zone we’d have a better opportunity of killing it. We did a pretty good job of that. They really didn’t get set that much. The penalty killers came up big.”

In addition to the stellar special teams play of the Sharks was the equally impressive goaltending from Sharks goaltender Anti Niemi who continued to be the Sharks “Most Valuable Player” of the playoffs by making impressive saves with Red Wings players campoed out in front of him. Niemi faced 40 shots on goal on the night including a barrage of shots in the final two minutes of the game to preserve the victory.

“He’s been our best player the entire year,” said Sharks forward Logan Couture. “He’s really stepped up in the playoffs. He had a couple tough games in the first series against the Kings. But he’s stepped up. He made some big saves for us tonight to get the win. I love playing for ‘Nemo’. Everybody in this room loves playing for ‘Nemo.”

The Sharks now advance to the Western Conference Finals against the Northwest Division Champion and Western Conference’s top-seeded Vancouver Canucks. Game 1 of the series will be played Sunday, May 15 at 5 p.m.

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