Posted November 26, 2011 on AP on Fox
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Roberto Luongo outplayed Antti Niemi and beat the San Jose Sharks to help the Vancouver Canucks reach the Stanley Cup finals last spring. However, when the teams meet for the first time since the playoffs, Niemi will be the far hotter goaltender while it isn't clear whether Luongo will even be in net. The Sharks will try to match a season with a high fifth straight win Saturday night when they host the Canucks, who are trying to extend their longest winning streak of the season. Vancouver eliminated San Jose in five games in the Western Conference finals last season behind Luongo, who had a 2.38 goals-against average in that series compared to Niemi's 3.68 mark. Niemi, though, enters this contest having won five straight starts while Luongo hasn't played since Nov. 13 due to an undisclosed upper-body injury. The Vancouver goalie hasn't been particularly sharp this season even when healthy, going 7-5-1 with a 2.97 GAA which ranks him in the bottom third of the league. A matchup with his former team didn't bother Niemi as he stopped 34 shots for his first shutout of the season in a 1-0 victory over Chicago on Wednesday. Niemi is 9-2-1 this season and has a 1.00 GAA in his last four starts. "We talked about it this morning. We really believe he's starting to resemble the Nemo from the past year and really starting to settle in," coach Todd McLellan said. "Just exuded confidence." With solid play in net, the Sharks (13-5-1) have won six of seven, giving up seven goals in the six victories. San Jose may have caught a break with Vancouver (12-9-1) playing the night before, which could lead to coach Alain Vigneault starting Luongo over Cory Schneider. Though Luongo declared himself ready to go this week, Schneider has won three consecutive starts, the last two by shutout. He made 21 saves in a 5-0 win at Phoenix on Friday. "We were pretty sound defensively tonight," said Ryan Kesler, who had a goal and an assist. "When we did have breakdowns, a couple there in the first period, Schneids was there. He's been there for the last three games for us. He's been our best player each and every night." Vancouver has outscored opponents 10-1 during a season-high three-game streak and has won six of eight. As well as the Sharks are playing, Luongo is 5-1-1 with a 1.99 GAA in his last seven starts against them - including playoffs. "I know who's going to play," Vigneault said. "I'm going to tell my goaltender tonight so I've got to tell them before I tell you." The Canucks have won three of their last four regular-season visits to San Jose. Henrik Sedin had 17 points in nine matchups last season while Alexandre Burrows had six goals. Burrows has scored in each of the last two games.
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