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Blackhawks stymied by former mate Antti Niemi in 1-0 loss to Sharks

Blackhawks left wing Andrew Brunette (15) is stopped by Sharks goalie Antti Niemi as defenseman Jim Vandermeer (2) looks during

Blackhawks left wing Andrew Brunette (15) is stopped by Sharks goalie Antti Niemi as defenseman Jim Vandermeer (2) looks on during the second period Wednesday. | Marcio Jose Sanchez~AP

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Updated: November 24, 2011 12:47AM



SAN JOSE, Calif. — Everything was better except the result.

Reeling after two ugly losses in Edmonton and Calgary, the Blackhawks recovered against a good San Jose Sharks team at the H.P. Pavilion on Wednesday. But nothing was better than former Hawks goalie Antti Niemi, who gobbled up 34 shots in a 1-0 victory.

“We had some tough losses, but this was one where you know you’re trending in the right direction,” coach Joel Quenneville said.

The Sharks took a 1-0 lead late in the second when Jason Demers scored from the point with a shot that redirected off Jonathan Toews’ stick and bounced past Corey Crawford on a power play.

After being outscored 14-4 in what the Hawks called humiliating losses to the Oilers and Flames, it was a tough break in a strong defensive game. The goal came on just the Sharks’ 11th shot. They entered averaging more than 34 shots per game.

“It was a weird bounce,” Crawford said. “I thought it was going to stay on the ice, but it kind of jumped up.”

The Hawks were everything they weren’t the last two games defensively. They clogged passing lanes, tied up potential shooters and were good on the forecheck. They also maintained puck possession.

“That’s the way we wanted to play coming in,” Quenneville said. “We wanted to be tight defensively. I thought we checked well. They got a fortunate bounce, and scoring first was the difference. But if you play like that, you’ll find ways to get points.”

The numbers, especially after two periods, were heavily in the Hawks’ favor. After 40 minutes, the Hawks outshot the Sharks 23-11 while missing six more. The Sharks also had 14 of their 15 blocks in the first two periods.

Niemi stood strong on the penalty kill and turned away breakaway attempts by Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell. He also stopped Toews in close on a late power play for the Hawks, who were 0-for-4 with the man advantage.

“He stood on his head,” Bickell said.

“He was very good obviously,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “But we have to find a way to get at least one goal in a game like this.”

Was a strong defensive effort some solace after two ugly losses?

“If we keep working that way and keep playing that speed, we’ll get bounces and we’ll be a tough team to beat,” Toews said. “You’re going to play some good games that aren’t going to go your way, but we’ve got to give ourselves more chances to win by playing like that every single night. If we do, we’ll be a tough team to overcome.”

NOTE: Winger Michael Frolik returned to the lineup after missing two games with a shoulder injury. But defenseman Brent Seabrook (leg) missed his fourth game in a row, despite taking part in practice Tuesday and saying he was “feeling good” afterward.



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