Sabres-Sharks Preview


Antti Niemi had experienced some rough spots since the middle of January but came up huge during the San Jose Sharks' last game.

Similar efforts from Niemi would certainly go a long way in helping them climb the Western Conference standings.

San Jose looks to post back-to-back wins for the first time in nearly a month Thursday night against a visiting Buffalo Sabres team trying to get back in the East's playoff picture.

After completing a 2-6-1 road swing, the Sharks (33-22-7) came out with a stifling defensive display in their first game back home. Ryane Clowe's goal 1:22 into the first period held up and Niemi turned away 26 shots in Tuesday's 1-0 win over Philadelphia.

"It was a perfect defensive game against the best offensive team in the league," defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. "We set the bar pretty high. If we can do it against them we can do it against any team."

Niemi had been pulled in two of his three previous starts and entered Tuesday in the midst of a 5-8-1 funk, during which he had compiled a 3.10 goals-against average.

"He had struggled a little bit but I think (Tuesday) he played great, saw all the pucks," said captain Joe Thornton, who extended his point streak to six games with an assist versus the Flyers. "This should definitely get his confidence back. He looked good and comfortable. It was nice to see."

Despite their poor play of late, the Sharks sit in seventh place in the West and just two points behind red-hot Phoenix for the Pacific Division lead.

"When we focus in on defense we play really, really good," Thornton added. "(Tuesday) we just focused and we realized points are huge right now and we gotta get it done and we did."

Buffalo (28-27-8) came out with a tremendous defensive showing of its own Wednesday, beating Anaheim 2-0 on the second stop of its five-game trek. The 12th-place Sabres have gone 9-3-3 over their last 15 games to pull within five points of Washington for the eighth and final playoff berth in the East.

Derek Roy notched his ninth point in seven games with an early goal and Ryan Miller made a season-high 43 saves for his fourth shutout, improving to 4-0-1 with a 1.36 GAA over his last five contests.

"Miller played outstanding. Their team played well and he played really well," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. " ... He did a great job keeping them out, as did their defense. We know he is one of the best goalies in the league."

Unfortunately for the Sharks, they know all too well how dominant Miller can be. The nine-year veteran turned away 36 shots in a 3-0 win at San Jose on Jan. 6, 2011. Miller is 2-1-0 with one tie and a 1.72 GAA lifetime at HP Pavilion.

Buffalo has taken five of six in this series, including three straight while outscoring the Sharks 12-4.

In his only career meeting versus the Sabres, Niemi surrendered five goals in a 6-3 road loss Dec. 9, 2010.

San Jose's All-Star forward Logan Couture, who was held out Tuesday with a lower body injury, and defenseman Douglas Murray (throat) are both uncertain to be available. Coach Todd McLellan, meanwhile, could miss a second straight game with concussion symptoms after being hit in the head by a stick during Sunday's 4-3 loss in Minnesota.