Antti Niemi to start vs. Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi said he will start Thursday night against the Blackhawks, marking the first time he'll play in Chicago since helping lead the franchise to its first Stanley Cup title in 49 years.

"It feels funny," Niemi said at United Center after the morning skate. "It's been a long time. It felt funny driving in from O'Hare."

As far as the fan reaction he expected, Niemi simply said, "Hope it's positive."

Niemi, with whom Chicago parted ways after deciding an arbitrator's salary number was too high, beat the Blackhawks in two games this season in San Jose. Niemi is 7-9-2 with a 3.08 goals-against average. He's lost three of his past four.

"I don't think it's 0-2 against just Antti," Blackhawks forward Troy Brouwer said. "We're playing against a good hockey team, and the Sharks have a lot of weapons."

Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said the plan is the same as it would be for any goalie.

"We have to get pucks at him early," Seabrook said. "Pucks and bodies. The less he sees the puck, the better for us."

Niemi said he has no hard feelings about the way he left Chicago.

"Not mad [about not re-signing with the Blackhawks]," he said. "It didn't go the way I would have thought. It went a pretty different way."

The Sharks' other goalie, Antero Niittymaki, is 12-4-3 with a 2.44 GAA. He made just 19 saves in a 5-3 loss Wednesday to the Minnesota Wild.

Jesse Rogers covers the Blackhawks for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.