Sharks hold on in third period, defeat Bruins 4-2

Antti Niemi made 37 stops tonight against the Boston Bruins, allowing his team to eek out another gritty road win.

The Sharks may have been outshot and outchanced tonight in Boston, but some timely goal scoring and excellent play in net by Antti Niemi was good enough to hold off the defending Stanley Cup champions in the third period and put San Jose back at the .500 mark on the season.

Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and Benn Ferriero scored for San Jose at even strength, as Patrick Marleau added an empty net tally with four seconds remaining in the third period to seal the deal for the Sharks.

Both teams traded scoring chances in the first two shifts of the game, as Thornton nearly put one home past Tim Thomas when a dump-in bounced awkwardly off the end boards. The Bruins would go on to generate another excellent chance of their own on a 3 on 1 chance merely twenty seconds later, but Niemi came up with the stop. Finally, after Joe Thornton disrupted the Bruins breakout in the neutral zone pounced on the loose puck at the blueline, the Sharks put an end to the "First goal? You take it, no, you take it!" courtesies that were being extended between the two teams. Thornton sent a brisk forehand pass over to Pavelski where, entering the zone with speed, he rifled a beautiful wrister past an aggressive Tim Thomas to put the Sharks on the board early in the frame.

Frantic up and down the ice action punctuated with great energy on both sides dominated the remainder of the first period, with Boston pouring on shots in the offensive zone. The Bruins were firing pucks from all angles and getting sound aggressive pinches from their defenseman in the offensive zone, carrying the majority of play throughout the frame. San Jose would get a push back in the middle portion of the frame with some good opportunities from Couture, Marleau, and Pavelski respectively, but the Bruins would keep coming. Niemi had countless dandies in the period and looked like the goaltender who carried the Sharks on his back throughout the second half of last year.

The second period was a better outing for the Sharks, who pushed back well and began to generate some opportunities of their own. San Jose's second line capitalized in the middle of the period on a goal that was a perfect example of the kinds of skill sets each player brings to the table. After a dump-in by San Jose was played by a Bruins defenseman, Ryane Clowe came in hard on the forecheck and laid on a hit that separated his man from the puck. Martin Havlat jumped on it immediately, and sent a beautiful backhand pass to an uncovered Logan Couture in front of the net that Couture snapped home, giving the Sharks a 2-0 lead.

The second line of Havlat, Clowe, and Couture got better and better throughout the game, foreshadowing just how dangerous they are going to be later in the season when they become more comfortable with each other's tendencies. It has been said before many times of course, but the 1-2 punch San Jose has on their top two forward lines is a force that will allow them to stay competitive in every game this season.

And help them recover from rough starts to the third period.

Taking a 2-0 lead into intermission, and coming off a second period that was much better than the first, San Jose ran into trouble and allowed the pressing Bruins to quickly get back into the game. The first goal against came off an innocent looking dump-in that Niemi played behind his net. After the Bruins forwards had collapsed on him, Niemi tried to swing the puck around the boards to no avail. The bouncing puck skittered out in front of the net where it squeeked through the flailing bodies and onto the stick of Milan Lucic who put it into the net. It was Niemi's lone mistake of the night, but one that gave Bruins the momentum they needed to forge a comeback.

It didn't take long.

29 seconds later the Sharks chipped the puck out of their own zone after a tough board battle, but Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray both overcommitted and stepped up to attack the current puck carrier, Tyler Seguin. Recognizing the opportunity, Seguin hacked the puck into the zone onto the stick of Milan Lucic, who drove hard to the net and found Seguin streaking past a fallen Dan Boyle. Seguin roofed the shot past the helpless Niemi, tying the game and erasing a 2-0 Sharks lead in less than a minute.

Boston would continue to pressure San Jose, generating a trio of excellent scoring chances that Niemi would continue to foil. Outside of his giveaway on the Bruins first goal Niemi was absolutely stellar on the night, squashing Boston's chances and rarely giving them second chance opportunities in front of the net. Rebound control had been an issue for Niemi when he came over to the Sharks from Chicago last year, but tonight he showed just how much he has progressed in that area against a dangerous Bruins team.

After a Douglas Murray pinch led to a 2 on 1 going the other way that resulted in a Niemi save, the Sharks third line got to work on the ensuing faceoff. Chasing down a puck in the corner the recently called-up Benn Ferriero sent the puck up to the blueline where Jim Vandermeer corralled it and sent a shot to the net. Jamie McGinn got his stick on it on the way in, resulting in Tim Thomas unable to control his rebound. Benn Ferriero pounced on the loose puck in front, sliding the puck into the open net and giving the Sharks a 3-2 lead.

San Jose would survive a couple other odd-man opportunities the rest of the way, the most prescient being a 3 on 1 that Marc-Edouard Vlasic played perfectly. Taking away the pass Vlasic shut down the initial opportunity perfectly; after the loose puck kicked out to Chris Kelly, Niemi would slide across his crease and make an excellent stop to keep the 3-2 advantage intact. It was one the Sharks would not give up.

Overall, tonight was a game that is a good one to see the Sharks win. They were outshot and outchanced by an opposing team for the first time this season, but great survival mode instincts by Antti Niemi, timely goal scoring from the top three lines, and a penchant for blocking shots (21 in the game, with Boyle, Murray, Havlat, and Burns leading the way) helped seal the win.

You can always point to the possession numbers of blocked shots against, missed shots, and shots to paint the picture of who controlled the game, and in that sense, San Jose was definitely behind the ball-- Boston tallied 80 of the aforementioned numbers in comparison to the Sharks 50. Considering this was a much needed win, and San Jose's second game where they scored a big goal in the third period, the two points and excellent goaltending they received tonight overshadows any negatives that can be culled from these numbers.

After dropping three in a row the Sharks are off to a 2-0 start on a six game road trip that will take them through the end of October. It's a great start to a road trip the Sharks needed to have success on, and one that should help ease the early season adversity a 1-3 start provided.

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