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Sharks’ Niemi on facing ex-Chicago mates: “It’s a special game”

Feb 5, 2013, 3:58 PM EDT

Antti Niemi Getty Images

There’ll be plenty of storylines at play tonight when the top two teams in the Western Conference — the Blackhawks and Sharks — meet at the HP Pavilion in San Jose.

One of the most predominant storylines? Sharks goalie Antti Niemi playing the team he captured a Stanley Cup with in 2010.

“It’s been a while from last time,” Niemi told the Chicago Tribune about facing the ‘Hawks. “It’s still a bunch of the same guys, so of course, it’s a special game.”

It was only three years ago that Niemi was an unheralded Finnish netminder who backstopped Chicago to its first Cup win since 1961.

He went on to sign with the Sharks just months after hoisting Lord Stanley’s mug and become their undisputed No. 1 netminder.

He’s also faced his former team eight times, though it’s been nearly a year since the last meeting:

Nov. 24, 2010 — 5-2 win, stopped 30 of 32 shots
Dec. 11, 2010 — 2-1 win, stopped 28 of 29 shots
Dec. 30, 2010 — 5-3 win, stopped 26 of 29 shots
Mar. 14, 2011 — 6-3 loss, pulled after allowing 4 goals on 18 shots
Nov. 23, 2011 — 1-0 win, stopped 34 of 34 shots (first shutout vs. CHI)
Dec. 11, 2011 — 3-2 OT loss, stopped 31 of 34 shots
Jan. 15, 2012 — 4-3 loss, stopped 36 of 40 shots
Feb. 10, 2012 — 5-3 win, stopped 30 of 33 shots

As you can see, Niemi’s had a lot of success against his old team — but he also tends to face a lot of rubber in those games.

He’s expecting more of the same tonight, especially given how well Chicago’s played to start the year.

“It’s even more fun when we’re both playing well,” he explained. “It’s a bigger challenge for us, plus we’ve had a couple of days with no games.

“We really, really want to win today.”

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