SAN JOSE -- The Sharks have come to expect steady performances from goaltender Antti Niemi. But some of his saves can still leave his teammates in awe.
Niemi stopped 21 shots in Thursday's 4-1 win by the Sharks over the Vancouver Canucks, but it was his brilliant save midway through the third period that preserved San Jose's fourth straight season-opening home victory.
With the Sharks clinging to a one-goal lead, Niemi made a point-blank stop with his right pad on Vancouver's Chris Higgins as a Canucks power play was ending. The save protected the lead and set the stage for two Sharks goals in the final six minutes that led to their fourth straight season-opening win on home ice.
"It was huge," Sharks forward Logan Couture said of Niemi's save on Higgins. "I don't know how he saved that from the bench. I thought it was a for sure goal. Nemo did it all last year, and it's a good start for him this year. He played great tonight."
Niemi's lone blemish came in the first period as a pretty power play goal in the high slot by Jason Garrison, set up by Daniel and Henrik Sedin, gave the Canucks a 1-0 lead just 9:06 into the game. But Niemi was perfect from then on out, stopping 10 shots in the second period and five in the third.
"Everybody found a way to contribute," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "I thought our goaltender was really good in the second half of the game when he needed to be."
Niemi's performance was reminiscent of last season, when he went 24-12-6 in the regular season as the Sharks' workhorse in the lockout-shortened campaign.
He finished with a 1.87 goals against average and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie.
Although the Sharks have a capable backup in Alex Stalock, Niemi will still be counted on to lead the Sharks to the playoffs for a 10th straight season.
"Year after year, we just kind of expect that," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "It's like déjà vu all over again from last year. He's the backbone of our team."