San Jose’s Antti hero saves the day

Ryan Kennedy
San Jose Sharks v Detroit Red Wings

DETROIT – Here’s the thing: When great teams play each other, you don’t necessarily get firewagon hockey. You want goals? Watch Toronto and Edmonton square off. But if you want the game played at a truly elite level, sometimes you have to settle for a technically excellent but low-scoring affair. In two marquee matchups tonight, precisely one goal was scored in regulation.

Gabriel Landeskog had the only marker as Colorado beat Pittsburgh 1-0, while in Detroit, San Jose skated off with a 1-0 shootout win when neither team could tally through 65 minutes.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said the game resembled playoff hockey and that if any minor hockey kids wanted to learn about playing a tight, positionally sound game where the sticks were always in the right places, this was it.

Have I lost you yet?

OK, now the good news: San Jose survived a very stiff test from the Red Wings and unlike the scoring machine they’ve implemented early on this season, they had to rely on goalie Antti Niemi to save their bacon on a night where nothing was getting by Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, either.

“We really do feel if we score one or two a night we have a chance of winning it,” said captain Joe Thornton. “He’s been the backbone of our team for a couple years now and when he’s in net we have so much confidence.”

It wasn’t a simple game for Niemi, either. The Red Wings didn’t get their first shot until five minutes into the contest and only had five total with the game nearly half over.

“You want to be in the game and follow the play,” he said. “You have to be more ready but still, don’t worry about it. Be patient, wait for pucks.”

Talking with the Sharks, they all feel that speed is what sets this edition apart from past incarnations; the depth they have enables them to roll three impressive lines and a fourth unit that can play, too. The question now and until the end of the season is whether or not this can be the San Jose team that finally gets to the Stanley Cup and, if you’re a Sharks fan, win it all.

Detroit has always been a yardstick for success and though the Wings and Sharks are no longer in the same conference, the game still had a rivalry feel. Wouldn’t it be funny if this was the year San Jose made it to the end of the post-season and met the Wings?

They’ve got the talent and a goaltender who already has a ring from his Chicago days. Now it’s time to put it all together.