Home never seemed so sweet for the San Jose Sharks and goaltender Antti Niemi.
After a disastrous [2-6-1] road trip, San Jose returned to HP Pavilion on Tuesday night and beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 1-0. Ryane Clowe scored the game-winner just 82 seconds into game, and Niemi stopped all 26 shots he faced for his fifth shutout of the season.
"We needed this," Clowe said. "It was a gutsy win, especially in the third. You had a lot of juggling. A lot of key guys out. I was really happy to see Nemo bounce back and play good. He was solid tonight."
The Sharks beat the Flyers for the ninth straight time, a streak that dates to Feb. 16, 2004. They extended their unbeaten streak against Philadelphia to 13 games -- 11 wins and two ties. The Flyers haven't defeated the Sharks since Dec. 21, 2000, and they haven't won in San Jose since Nov. 5, 1999. Is this a ‘Shark tank curse’?
After Clowe's early goal, the game turned into a duel between struggling goaltenders, Niemi and Philadelphia's Ilya Bryzgalov, who stopped 22 of 23 shots.
Niemi came into the game stuck in a frustrating slump. In two of his previous three starts, he was yanked in the first period after allowing three goals. Since Jan. 12, he was [5-8-1] with a 3.10 goals-against average. But he was sharp from the outset against a Flyers team that entered the game leading the NHL in total goals (201), power-play goals (53) and goals per game (3.30).
Niemi said he thought he had turned things around when he stopped 29 shots in a 2-1 at Toronto on Thursday. But two nights later, he gave up three quick goals in a 6-2 loss at Nashville.
"So hopefully this is the game," Niemi said.
It definitely was not Bryzgalov's game, as he allowed the only goal into our net at 1:22 of the first period...the first shot on goal. For some reason, he appears to have to get the 'nerves' or the 'kinks' out with a goal, or two...or three. At least we are down to a 'one goal' allotment. Got to focus on the 'positive' folks!
With 2:25 left to play, former Sharks defenseman Matt Carle fired a laser from the blue line, but Niemi gloved it. After the Flyers pulled Bryzgalov, he survived a flurry of shots in the final minute-plus, including one at the horn.
"That was a tight-checking game," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, whose team finished its four-game road trip at [2-2-0]. "There needs to be more of that playoff intent right from the start. The gaps were a little bit too soft. The skating was labored at times. The checking was tough to generate offense. I don't think we generated 10 quality chances. I don't think they generate much more than that, but they made good on one of them."
Bryzgalov entered the game with a 2.82 goals against average and a save percentage of .898, but he played more like the two-time NHL All-Star the Flyers thought they were getting last June in a trade with Phoenix. He just needs to be ready early on and keep a positive momentum rolling.
"I feel good," Bryzgalov said of his performance. "I like this building. I like to play here."
That is great for Bryz; however, we do not visit that building very often and do not hold a great record there.
"It's tough when they score on the first shot," Flyers center Claude Giroux said. "We dug ourselves a hole, and it's playing catch-up again. We can't be doing that all season. It's going to kill us. We've got to find a way to get a better start."
Both teams entered the game with just 21 left to play in the regular season, and the intensity was often playoff like with plenty of scrums and hard hits. At one point in the third period, Vlasic was chasing the puck and wound up sending Flyers forward Danny Briere head-first into the boards.
"I was going back and he was, and he stopped right into me”, Vlasic said, “My momentum carried me forward. The ref saw it that way. That's what he said. I'm going in there to get the puck. It just so happened he turned into me and got the worst of it."
Personally, I'd like to watch the replay a few times over...I can 'see' where this could have taken place as described because Briere did stop short (bent over and stopped on a dime) of the boards, probably due to him being out briefly earlier due to concussion like symptoms. However, I would like to investigate if this was just natural motion and speed or if Vlasic did indeed help things along with a 'shove' on things. I understand skating at high speeds, but should he possibly made an effort to turn his body some to avoid a direct board smashing, or swerve to try to miss Briere to his best ability? Still out on this one. (*I am searching for video of this hit; not available to share at this time).
Even though this was a low scoring game, it was clear that the Flyers definitely made efforts to tie the game numerous times--let alone try to force a lead. The last three minutes of this game were highly intense and it did 'feel' like a playoff circumstance. The seat-edging final moments of the third are this fan's favorite part of the game. That form of persistence and determination can drive a team to work miracles...unfortunately for the Flyers squad, the miracles in San Jose were on the side of Niemi and the Sharks.
The late ‘dance’ featuring Simmonds, Hartnell, Briere, Giroux and a few Sharks was the best ending, if not a win in the cards!
Flyers play again this Thursday evening at the Wells Fargo Center. They take on the NY Islanders and the puck drops at 7:00 pm sharp. Nabokov let a pad splitter in late last night, so we may have another similar net minding battle coming up. This game is televised on CSN.