Posted November 16, 2011 on AP on Fox
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The last time the Detroit Red Wings visited San Jose, they had a chance to win their Western Conference semifinal series after losing the first three games. Antti Niemi and Patrick Marleau made sure the Sharks avoided an historic collapse, and they also paved the way for San Jose to win the first meeting between the teams this season. Niemi is expected to make his first start in a week Thursday night when the Sharks host the Red Wings for the first time since winning Game 7 of last season's playoff matchup. After winning each of the first three games of that semifinal series by one goal - two in overtime - San Jose went on to lose the next three before posting a 4-2 win in the decisive game May 12. Marleau got his first point of the series in Game 7 when he knocked home a rebound with 7:47 to play in the third period and then made the key defensive play in the closing seconds. Niemi had 38 saves as the Sharks eliminated the Red Wings for the second straight year in the second round. These teams faced off Oct. 28 in Detroit, with Marleau contributing a goal and an assist and Niemi stopping 30 shots in a 4-2 victory. "It's always a great game when these two teams come together," Marleau said. "They've been a very good organization, an elite team, for a long time, so you know you'd better come prepared to play. Getting a win against them does feel good, because you know it's always an elite game." Including the playoffs, San Jose is 13-5-0 in the last 18 meetings despite outscoring Detroit only 55-50. "Every game against them seems to be a one-goal game," said Sharks center Joe Thornton, who scored twice in the Oct. 28 matchup. "These are two good, competitive teams, and it's become a pretty good rivalry the last couple of years." The Sharks (9-5-1) gave Niemi a rest Saturday and suffered their first regulation loss in five games, 3-0 against Phoenix. "We had a good run, but it's done now and we have to start something new," defenseman Dan Boyle said. Niemi is 2-0-1 with a 2.30 goals-against average in his last three starts. Marleau, second on the Sharks with 14 points, had three goals and two assists in his previous two games before Saturday. Detroit (9-6-1), meanwhile, has been streaky all season. The Red Wings opened with five straight wins before losing six in a row, then won four straight before a 2-1 defeat to St. Louis in the opener of a four-game trip Tuesday night. They went 0 for 6 on the power play and have come up empty in 16 opportunities with the man advantage over the last three games. "Our power play let us down," said coach Mike Babcock, whose team has dropped four of six away from home. San Jose has not allowed a power-play goal in six chances over its last two games.
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