(WSCR) – Last season Antti Niemi helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup Championship. After the Blackhawks and Niemi went all the way to an arbitration hearing, the Blackhawks released the goalie who later signed with the San Jose Sharks. Tonight the Blackhawks will came face-to-face with their former teammate for the first time.
In his Chicago Blackhawks debut last November, Marian Hossa scored twice to fuel a rout of the San Jose Sharks. With their star winger struggling to find the net, the Blackhawks may be returning to San Jose at a good time.
In a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals – swept by Chicago – and possibly a reunion with the goalie who helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, Hossa will try to continue his recent success against the Sharks on Wednesday night.
After signing a 12-year deal, Hossa sat out the first 22 games in 2009-10 while recovering from right shoulder surgery. In his return Nov. 25, he helped the Blackhawks to a 7-2 victory at San Jose and an eventual 4-1-1 finish on their annual November road trip.
Hossa enters this game having scored once in his last 11 games after tallying seven goals in the first seven contests. However, he does have six points since returning from an upper-body injury Nov. 7, including three assists in Saturday’s 7-1 victory at Vancouver.
Fernando Pisani scored twice in that rout, which followed a 7-2 loss to Calgary the previous night. The Blackhawks (11-10-2) opened their six-game trek with a 5-0 victory over Edmonton last Wednesday.
“We have to come to play every night,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “This is a new team, but we need to realize that we can’t just strap on the gear and just go play hockey. We need to be focused as a team and know what we’re doing.”
While it has experienced ups and downs after winning the Stanley Cup, Chicago has consistently beaten San Jose for much of the past two seasons, especially at HP Pavilion. Including last season’s playoff sweep, the Blackhawks have won nine of 10 meetings and five straight in San Jose.
Hossa had just one assist in the conference finals, but he’s totaled 14 goals and six assists in his last 14 regular-season matchups with the Sharks (9-6-4), who will try to avoid a season-high fourth consecutive loss Wednesday.
After a pair of overtime defeats on the road, San Jose was shut out for the fourth time this season Saturday, falling 3-0 at home to Columbus. The Sharks, who had a seven-game point streak snapped, endured only two shutout losses last season while posting the best record in the West.
“Our players have to accept the fact they have to work and grind it out for 60 minutes, 82 times a year,” coach Todd McLellan told the team’s website. “They can’t be waiting and say they want to turn it on later.”
Aside from Saturday’s loss, Joe Pavelski has turned it on lately with three goals and five assists in his last six games. That hot streak could continue Wednesday as he has three goals and eight assists in his last eight regular-season matchups with Chicago.
This meeting may feature the Blackhawks’ first with former goaltender Antti Niemi, who started every playoff game during Chicago’s championship run but is 2-4-1 with a 3.91 goals-against average in seven appearances for San Jose. Antero Niittymaki, meanwhile, is 7-2-3 with a 2.07 GAA.
McLellan said he wouldn’t officially announce if Niemi, who was let go by the Blackhawks due to salary cap restraints, will start against his former team until after Wednesday’s morning skate.
The Blackhawks may start Corey Crawford, whom Niemi beat out for a roster spot last season, but they’re more likely to look to Marty Turco, whom they signed as a replacement.
Turco, though, gave up a career-worst seven goals in the loss to Calgary. Crawford, who has never faced the Sharks, has a 1.89 GAA in his last four appearances and came within seven minutes of his second career shutout in Saturday’s victory.
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