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Sharks, Niemi shut down Canucks

The SportsXchange

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Antti Niemi saved almost everything Thursday night, even his team's struggling power play.

The Sharks goalie turned away all but one of the Vancouver Canucks' 22 shots, and San Jose opened the season with a 4-1 win despite going 0-for-7 on the power play.

Niemi's efforts foiled the regular-season debut of Canucks coach John Tortorella.

"We had a really good start. The first 10 minutes we played they way we should," Tortorella said. "Then after we scored, we turned a couple over and they mounted on them and we lost the momentum."

Patrick Marleau and Tommy Wingels scored with 78 seconds late in the third period to break open a one-goal contest.

"It was a tight game," Niemi said. "It's good to get the points out of the first game."

Marleau scored at 14:39 after Logan Couture forced a turnover from Vancouver's Chris Higgins. Wingels slipped the puck past Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo at 15:57 on a feed from Andrew Desjardins' during a two-man breakaway.

"We had a couple of breakdowns, but it's all a learning curve," Vancouver's Ryan Kesler said. "We want to be aggressive. That's who we are. That's our identity."

The Sharks scored the only two goals in the middle period to wipe out a 1-0 deficit and take a 2-1 lead into the third period.

"We played great in the first period, then we turned the puck over," Vancouver's Henrik Sedin said. "When you do that in this building, they will take advantage, which they did and grabbed the momentum."

San Jose finally solved Luongo, who stopped the first 16 shots he faced in the game. Joe Thornton started the scoring sequence by poking the puck off Canucks defenseman Jason Garrison at center to create a turnover.

Rookie Tomas Hertl fed Brent Burns, who streaked in along right wing and beat Luongo with a shot just inside the near post at 5:53 of the second period. Burns' first goal of the season helped atone for a pair of bad first-period penalties, the first of which led to the visitors' goal.

"I've been taking a lot of heat lately for not shooting," Burns joked.

Special teams dominated the middle portion of the period as the Sharks squandered a full two-minute 5-on-3 and a 5-on-4 minutes later before the teams traded abbreviated 12-second power plays.

"That's way too many power plays to give in a game," Garrison said. "You never want to give up that many. We started the game the way we wanted, but the momentum shifted and we couldn't get it back."

The Sharks broke through late in the period when defenseman Justin Braun capped an extended cycle. His shot from just inside the blue line along the right boards beat a screened Luongo at 18:07. Sharks teammates Tyler Kennedy and Couture were buzzing in front of the Canucks' goal.

"Our power play was a strength all last year, and it's going to be a strength this year, but 5-on-5 play won us the game," Thornton said.

The Canucks escaped the first period with a 1-0 lead on the strength of a power-play goal despite getting outshot 16-7 in the opening 20 minutes.

The first of two frustration penalties taken by Burns -- a retaliatory slash against Higgins while players were changing -- cost San Jose. It took the Canucks just 35 seconds to convert, as Garrison stepped into a Daniel Sedin feed to drill a one-timer past Niemi.

Luongo was splendid in the period, closing his 5-hole on Joe Pavelski's short-handed breakaway. He also slid over to stop a Burns one-timer at even strength. Luongo denied Hertl his first career goal on a redirect in front, and he stoned Couture in close during the final 40 seconds.

"I felt good, but I gave up four goals on 35 shots," Luongo said. "That's not going to do it. I thought the last two periods went OK. There were some breakdowns, and I would have liked to make one or two more saves."

NOTES: Vancouver C Henrik Sedin played in his 630th consecutive game to tie Andy Hebenton for sixth on the NHL's all-time list. ... San Jose D Brad Stuart did not dress for the opener after skating with teammates for the past week. Stuart, one of six Sharks to appear in all 48 games last season, missed all seven preseason games with a lower-body injury sustained during late-summer workouts. ... Vancouver is 21-17-5 all-time in season openers and 6-6-1 on the road. San Jose is 6-2-1 in season debuts since 2005-06. San Jose coach Todd McLellan is 5-1 in six openers behind the Sharks' bench. ... Two San Jose rookies who made their NHL debuts Thursday -- Hertl, 19, and Matt Nieto, 20 -- are the first Sharks born after the franchise played its first game Oct. 4, 1991. ... D Yannick Weber, D Andrew Alberts and F Zack Kassian did not dress for Vancouver. San Jose's three scratches were injured skaters -- RW Martin Havlat, RW Adam Burish and Stuart.

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