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Niemi leads Sharks to 2-0 victory over Blackhawks

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Antti Niemi made 31 saves in his 31st career shutout and the San Jose Sharks won their third straight game by beating the Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 on Saturday night.

Melker Karlsson scored early and Joe Thornton added an empty-net goal for the Sharks, who got their first regulation win over the Blackhawks since Feb. 10, 2012. Niemi did the rest against his former team as San Jose followed up wins over defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles and NHL points leader Anaheim with one against perennial cup contender Chicago.

Antti Raanta made 19 saves for the Blackhawks, who were shut out for the fourth time this season. Chicago lost two of three on the post-All-Star break California swing, with the win coming Friday night in Anaheim.

The Sharks struck early to take the lead when Raanta struggled to control a shot by Matt Irwin. Karlsson batted at the rebound and it deflected into the net for his eighth goal of the season.

Niemi took the game after that, especially in a brilliant second period when he kept Chicago off the scoreboard despite a 15-6 edge in shots on goal.

Niemi made a pair of tough saves early in the second on Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad. He then stopped Marian Hossa on a 2-on-1 rush midway through the period and came up with his best saves when the Sharks were on the power play late in the second.

Jonathan Toews came in alone on a breakaway and Niemi got a piece of his initial shot. The puck trickled past him and was on the way into the net before Niemi swept it off the goal line with his stick. Toews then got two more whacks at the rebound, but Niemi managed to stop those while lying on the ice with help from defenseman Brent Burns. Toews had the puck again for another shot, but the referees blew the play dead on a quick whistle.

After Raanta made key stops on Barclay Goodrow and Matt Nieto early in the third to keep the deficit at one goal, Niemi responded again with a tough save against Saad.

NOTES: Niemi, who helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup in 2010, had two shutouts against the Blackhawks, beating them 1-0 on Nov. 23, 2011. … Thornton assisted on Karlsson’s goal giving him at least 30 assists in 15 straight seasons. … Sharks D Scott Hannan left the game briefly after being hit late by Chicago’s Brian Bickell. … Sharks F Tye McGinn left the game after the first period with an undisclosed injury and did not return.

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