Feb 9, 2011, 9:50 PM EDT
All of a sudden, the San Jose Sharks might be the hottest team in the NHL. To underscore the up-and-down nature of the ultra-competitive Pacific Division, the Sharks opened up a slim lead over the Dallas Stars for the top spot thanks to a 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Antti Niemi might be the No. 1 reason for the Sharks’ resurgence. You might be aware that the goalie who helped the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup last season was struggling mightily to start the season, but he’s now 8-0-1 in his last nine stars. (The Sharks themselves are 9-0-1, with Alex Stalock earning one of those wins).
Niemi stopped 42 of the Blue Jackets’ 44 shots as the Sharks recovered from a 2-0 first period deficit to win this game. Columbus scored both of those goals on the power play, including a tally with nine seconds left in the first frame.
The best part for San Jose: they won the game with their 5-on-5 play, outscoring the Blue Jackets 3-0 in that category. With five wins in a row, the Sharks now lead the Stars by one point (66 to 65) although Dallas can re-establish that lead if they earn a point or more against Phoenix. (The Stars hold two games in hand over the Sharks at the moment.)
So the Sharks’ Pacific lead might not even last through tonight, but considering their struggles through the first half of this season, they’re probably glad to just be in the discussion.
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