In a game where goals were at a premium, Benn Ferriero went back to his baseball roots to find a way to give the San Jose Sharks a win.
Ferriero's goal with 8:25 remaining was all the offensive support goaltender Antti Niemi would need in San Jose's 1-0 blanking of the Calgary Flames in the final game before the All-Star break for both teams.
The only goal came on a scramble in front of the Flames net. Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff made stops on Dan Boyle and Logan Couture before the puck bounced in the air, then Ferriero gloved it down and slapped it in.
“I used to play baseball when I was younger, so I just tried to settle it down a fast as I could and throw it in the empty net,” said Ferriero.
“Bennie has a knack around the net, he's the benefactor of loose pucks laying in there. Tonight he went into the blue paint and found one,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan.
It was Niemi's third shutout of the season. More importantly, it comes on the heels of back-to-back games in which he uncharacteristically yielded four goals in each.
Niemi said it's a nice way to head into the break.
“That was a huge win for me personally,” said the 28-year-old Finn. “You want to go into the break feeling pretty good and now I can.”
Kiprusoff finished with 26 saves.
Calgary generated only 11 shots during the first 40 minutes, which according to Niemi was too few.
“That's always the case with goalies, you don't like getting too little shots. You want to face some shots to stay focused and stay warm,” Niemi said.
Niemi warmed up in no time in a much busier third period in which he turned aside 15 shots. He made three excellent stops to keep the game scoreless, including a glove save off Mikael Backlund on the opening shift of the period.
He also got a glove on Alex Tanguay's backhand attempt on a breakaway 5 minutes later, and jabbed out a pad to deny Tim Jackman on a dangerous rebound from close-in.
Niemi was again tested in the final 90 seconds as the Flames pulled their goalie and poured on the pressure. Flames forwards Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen both had dangerous chances but couldn't beat the Finnish goaltender.
“It felt like the shots were really coming quick there so I just followed the puck and tried to make sure I could see the puck,” Niemi said.
It's something the Sharks are accustomed to seeing from their number one goalie.
“He's unbelievable. He plays that way every single night and gives us a chance to win every single night and most of the time, he's the first star,” Ferriero said. “That's just what he does and we've come to expect it from him.”
San Jose (27-14-6) finished 1-1-1 on its three-game trek through Western Canada and went into the break in first place in the Pacific Division, two points up on the Los Angeles Kings.
“It's a big win for us. We lost three in a row here so going into the break on a positive note and winning a game like that, that's a real solid road victory for us,” Ferriero said.
Calgary (23-21-6) has lost two straight at home on the heels of an eight-game winning streak at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
“Tonight's disappointing, especially considering we're coming back home after getting some big points on the road where we've really struggled,” said Flames defenseman Chris Butler. “Coming home, coming into a comfort zone and not playing the way we wanted to tonight is disappointing.”
The Flames were coming off a successful three-game road trip in which they earned five of a possible six points. The only game they didn't win was a 2-1 shootout loss to the Sharks last Tuesday.
“Not good enough,” said Flames winger Mike Cammalleri, who has no points in four games after scoring a goal in his first game after being acquired from Montreal. “We've talked a lot about our assertiveness of late. It's the National Hockey League so you've always got to give credit to your opponent as well but at the same time, we'd like to make things harder on our opponent.”
Notes: Tanguay (neck) returned after missing 15 games. ... San Jose D Brent Burns (knee) did not play after getting hurt Monday night in Edmonton. ... The Sharks dressed seven defensemen with Jim Vandermeer (upper-body injury) playing his first game since Dec. 6. ... Newly sidelined for the Flames is LW Lance Bouma (foot) and C Matt Stajan (ankle). ... Calgary is the only NHL team without a short-handed goal. ... Calgary falls to 11-4-6 in one-goal games.