Niemi blanks Dallas as Sharks move into eighth spot in conference

SAN JOSE– For at least the next few days, the San Jose Sharks are among the top eight teams in the Western Conference after posting a 3-0 win over the visiting Dallas Stars Saturday night.

Joe Pavelski produced two goals and Antii Niemi made 22 saves as San Jose leapt over the Stars (89 points) into eighth place in the conference with 90 points. Los Angeles, an overtime loser to Minnesota, and Phoenix, a 4-0 winner over Anaheim, remain ahead of the Sharks with 91 points apiece. Each of the four teams in the Pacific Division bidding for the three playoff spots has three games left in the regular season.

San Jose has the most direct involvement in the Pacific Division in the schedule’s final week. The Sharks visit Dallason Tuesday, then begin a home-and-home series with the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. Los Angeles has a home date with Edmonton Monday. Dallas plays Nashville and St. Louis, while Phoenix has games with Columbus, St. Louis and Minnesota this week.

To describe Saturday’s game as a ‘must-win’ for the Sharks may have been over-kill, but a regulation loss to the Stars would have left San Josewith 88 points and three teams each at 91.

Pavelski made that statistic obsolete with goals in each of the first two periods against the Stars.

The Sharks struck for a 1-0 lead with 58 seconds gone in the first period.

Patrick Marleau, on his first shift of the game, was able to pull the puck away from a Star at the Dallas endboards before finding Joe Thornton open in the right circle. Pavelski slipped behind the Dallas defense in the low slot and turned Thornton’s soft pass into a one-timer that flew past the side of goaltender Kari Lehtonen and into the net for Pavelski’s 30th of the season.

San Jose converted on its third power play of the first period to take the 2-0 lead at the 18:38 mark.

Dallas winger Steve Ott was in the penalty box for interference when the Sharks solved Lehtonen for the second time. After the first power play unit was unsuccessful, Marty Havlat and the second unit gave the Sharks some breathing room. Havlat was able to show patience with the puck at the bottom of the right face-off circle before lifting a pass across the crease to a waiting Jason Demers for the one-timer past Lehtonen.

San Jose hustled to a 15-8 edge in shots on net in the second period. Pavelski earned his career-best 31st goal of the season at 9:39 of the second while the teams were skating four-aside. Marc Edouard-Vlasic’s blistering shot from the left point was redirected at the edge of the crease by Pavelski for the 3-0 cushion.

Dallas managed an 8-7 edge in shots in the scoreless third period. San Jose finished the game with a 34-22 edge in shots for the game, paced by Marleau’s six.

“He’s just a dirty player,” Thornton cracked of Pavelski’s positioning in front of the crease to bury Vlasic’s long shot for the final goal.

“We started well, competed hard all the way through,” added Thornton.

Niemi recorded his sixth goal of the season and 19th of his career.






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