SAN JOSE – Antti Niemi said on Thursday morning that playing on consecutive nights is much easier when the first game goes so well.
A few hours later, he proved he was telling the truth.
Niemi stopped all 27 Red Wings shots he saw on Thursday night to become the first Sharks goaltender to record back-to-back shutouts on consecutive nights in a 2-0 Sharks win. He made 22 saves in blanking the Ducks on Wednesday night, also at home.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks 2, Red Wings 0]
“I felt good after last night. I thought I was able to be real patient today, wait for pucks, and then react,” Niemi said. “I wasn’t cheating or expecting anything else, I was just reading the play. That’s a confidence thing, for sure.”
Todd McLellan said: “He had to physically be involved in the game and mentally be involved in the game for 60 minutes back-to-back, and he did a tremendous job.”
Niemi had plenty of help from his defense, too. Trailing 1-0 after the first period on a Joe Pavelski goal, the Red Wings had the territorial advantage for much of the second period, especially early. Still, the Sharks were rarely in danger, keeping the dangerous and skilled Red Wings forwards to the outside, blocking shots, and clearing pucks out from the front of the net if they happened to get there.
“It never really felt like they were all over us,” Pavelski said.
Niemi’s biggest save came at a crucial moment, with the Sharks holding on to a 2-0 lead but trying to kill off a TJ Galiardi minor. Henrik Zetterberg was alone in front with the puck on his backhand, but Niemi patiently stayed with it and turned it away with a little more than seven minutes left in regulation.
That was as close as the Red Wings would come to getting one by him.
“He made some big saves there, like that one on Zetterberg towards the end of the power play,” Pavelski said. “That’s a huge save at that moment.”
Niemi enjoys playing Detroit. He improved to 9-2-2 in his career against the Red Wings, with a goals-against average under two. It was his second shutout in his career against them, the first of which came when he was still with the Blackhawks.
He admitted that games with Detroit have a little bit more meaning.
“I think just them being one of the top teams for a long time, they have lots of skill, so I think it’s been a rivalry here against them, too," Niemi said. "I think it’s fun playing this team. It’s always a little bit bigger game against them.”
The start was Niemi’s 21st in the last 22 games, as regular backup Thomas Greiss remains on injured reserve. The Sharks don’t have back-to-back games again until April 11-12, and it was suggested to Niemi that he might get many more starts until then.
“Yeah. Sounds good,” Niemi said.