SAN JOSE, Calif. – Antti Niemi finally got comfortable when he started seeing more shots on goal. He made several huge stops in regulation and saved his best for last, stopping Nashville’s last chance during the shootout.
Ryane Clowe scored in a shootout and Niemi came up with a big save against David Legwand to give the San Jose Sharks a 2-1 victory over the Predators on Thursday night.
“It came quickly and I didn’t see it at first,” Niemi said of his save. “He shot low and I just squared up to him. We’ve had a few tough games but I’m glad we got this one.”
Joe Thornton also scored for the Sharks, who ended a three-game home losing streak and drew within one point of Colorado for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
“We had a lot of good opportunities in the first two periods and don’t score,” Thornton said. “We didn’t have too many in the third but we capitalized. I just tried to get the puck and throw it up a little.”
Patric Hornqvist scored as the Predators snapped a three-game winning streak but gained a point on Detroit for the fourth playoff spot in the West.
“They always put a lot of pressure on you,” Nashville’s Martin Erat said. “But we defended well and got a point out of it. On both sides it was anybody’s game.”
Pekka Rinne made 34 saves for the Predators, while Niemi stopped 32 shots for the Sharks.
“We saw a lot of pucks swallowed up,” Thornton said of Niemi. “He’s a world class goalie and we have a lot of confidence in him.”
Fourteen of the past 18 meetings between these two teams have been decided by one goal.
“We took a bad penalty at the end of the second period and they scored on the power play,” Predators’ coach Barry Trotz said. “That was the difference. We learned a little lesson there. When it goes to a shootout, anything can happen.”
Nashville took one shot in the first 12 minutes before grabbing a 1-0 lead with 6:42 left in the first period with a power-play goal. Hornqvist took a pass from Mike Fisher to the left of the net, swung around and fired it past Niemi.
“It was a back-and-forth game and both teams had chances,” Rinne said. “We just came up a little short.”
The Sharks tied it early in the third period on Thornton’s power-play goal. The Sharks’ captain was in the right spot when a shot deflected off Nashville defender Hal Gill in front of the goal and he slapped the puck into an open net.
The Predators outshot the Sharks 10-4 in the third period.
Dan Boyle got behind the Predators’ defence midway through the extra period and had a 1 on 1 with Rinne, who somehow kept the puck out of the net.
“He’s such a big goalie there’s not a whole lot of room,” Boyle said. “You have to get him moving and I just ran out of room.”
Niemi also recorded a tough save with less than 25 seconds left in overtime.
Notes: Nashville C Paul Gaustad left the ice midway through the final period with an apparent right wrist injury. … Sharks F Martin Havlat was activated from injured reserve and played in his first game since Dec. 17. … Hornqvist has four goals in his last five games. … Erat has seven points in his last six games. … Thornton has 48 points in 36 games against Nashville. … Sharks F Patrick Marleau has recorded an assist in each of his last three games.