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Niemi Faces Old Team, But On Bench?

Jonathan Toews

Jonathan Toews (photo credit: Getty Images)

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(WSCR) – The Blackhawks head to San Jose to take on the Sharks and with Anti Niemi struggling this season, he may not be in front of the net. The Blackhawks are looking for a third straight victory, despite losing the last time they faced the Sharks.

By MATT BECKER

STATS Senior Writer

(AP) — When the Chicago Blackhawks decided to part ways with Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Antti Niemi over the summer because of salary cap restraints, they signed veteran Marty Turco with hopes he could help lead the team on another championship run.

While the struggling Turco has been relegated to backup duties, things haven’t been going too much better for Niemi.

As Chicago’s Corey Crawford likely gets a chance to match a franchise rookie record with his eighth straight victory Saturday night, it’s unclear if the San Jose Sharks will put Niemi in net to face his former team again.

In the first meeting between these teams since last season’s Western Conference finals, the Sharks (14-10-4) defeated Chicago 5-2 at home Nov. 24. Niemi made 30 saves, while Turco stopped 24 of 28 shots for the Blackhawks (16-12-2).

That performance by Niemi, who stopped 31 of 36 shots in Thursday’s 6-3 loss to Buffalo, started a stretch in which he’s alternated wins and losses. He has a 1.34 goals-against average with a shutout in his three victories but a 4.73 GAA in three defeats.

Niemi is off to a fairly disappointing start at 5-7-1 with a 3.48 GAA, while Antero Niittymaki is 9-3-3 with a 2.43 GAA. Sharks coach Todd McLellan has yet to say who will start in this game.

Turco has appeared in net only once since Chicago’s last game in San Jose, as Crawford has essentially been elevated to the team’s No. 1 goalie.

Crawford has a 2.12 GAA in winning his last seven starts, one away from matching Denis Dejordy’s rookie club record of eight consecutive victories set in 1964.

“So far it’s been a lot of fun, but we got to keep that same mentality and do the little things right,” said Crawford, who has started six of the last eight games. “Sometimes I think when you’re winning games – not that you think it’s going to be easy – but sometimes going through the motions could get up to you. So the biggest thing is to keep working hard and stay focused.”

Crawford stopped 28 shots – including all 13 in the third period – in Wednesday’s 5-3 win over Dallas, Chicago’s eighth victory in 11 games.

The Blackhawks were playing their first game without Patrick Kane, whose sprained left ankle will keep him out for up to three weeks. Marian Hossa also missed his fourth straight game because of a lower-body injury.

As Chicago played without two of its star forwards, rookies Bryan Bickell and Jeremy Morin each stepped up and scored.

“We have guys scoring from all over our lineup, and I think that’s a real sign that your team is playing a good game and prepared to play,” said captain Jonathan Toews, who has four goals and three assists in his last four games.

While the Blackhawks will be hoping for more production from Bickell and Morin in the absence of Kane and Hossa, the Sharks already are receiving huge contributions from one of their young stars.

Logan Couture leads all rookies with 14 goals. Couture had a goal and an assist Thursday, and has six goals and two assists in his last five games.

Updated December 10, 2010

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