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Posted: Friday May 13, 2011 2:28AM ; Updated: Friday May 13, 2011 2:29AM

Thornton, Niemi, Zetterberg comprise Thursday's Three Stars

By Jay Clemons, SI.com

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Antti Niemi's self-preservation save of Pavel Datsyuk's blast late in Game 7 might have been the greatest stop in Sharks history.
Antti Niemi's self-preservation save of Pavel Datsyuk's blast late in Game 7 might have been the greatest stop in Sharks history.
Thea W. Henderson/Getty Images

1. Joe Thornton, Sharks: The box score only credits him for one assist and 22:02 minutes of ice time (third highest for the Sharks), but Thornton was an absolute force in Game 7, keeping tabs on Detroit's dazzling forwards and solidifying San Jose's top line with deft passing, solid checking and overall end-to-end excellence. His assist was a thing of beauty, zinging a cross-ice pass that buzzed the Wings' goal area to Devin Setoguchi, who one-timed a blast into the net for the Sharks' first score.

2. Antti Niemi, Sharks: The netminder is halfway home to becoming the only starting goalie in NHL history to capture back-to-back Stanley Cups with different teams. In Game 7, Niemi stonewalled 38 of 40 shots -- including Pavel Datsyuk's Al MacInnis-like slap shot in the waning seconds, a blast so lethal that Niemi stopped it more for self-preservation than clinching San Jose's third appearance in the conference finals.

3. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings: Scoring on a center-ice, backhanded shot -- with little goalie interference -- may be one of the toughest shots in hockey. And yet, Zetterberg made it happen in the second period, taking a snap pass from Valtteri Filppula, faking right, zipping to the left side and then beating Niemi on the blocker side for Detroit's first goal. However, there was one drawback to Zetterberg's scintillating play: A poorly timed backhand giveaway to Logan Couture opened the door for San Jose's second goal in the first period -- a mere 59 seconds before the intermission horn would've saved the day.

 
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