CALGARY, Alberta -- After waiting more than three months to start their season, the Sharks waited 20 minutes more to truly get going.
After a dismal first period, San Jose came on strong Sunday behind the stellar goaltending of Antti Niemi to win its lockout-delayed opener, 4-1 over the Calgary Flames at a sold-out Saddledome.
"Our goaltender allowed us to find our legs and a little more of our timing," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of Niemi, who made 15 of his 31 saves before the first intermission. "At the end of the night, we found a way to score a few more goals than they did."
Three of those San Jose goals -- two by Patrick Marleau and one by Marty Havlat -- came in a span of 4:18 of the second period as the Sharks took control of the game. Right wing Lee Stempniak scored the lone goal for Calgary, and Dan Boyle added one for San Jose late in the final period.
The game changed dramatically after an opening 20 minutes that saw Calgary control the puck in the San Jose zone, outshoot the Sharks 16-9 and take a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal at 12:21 by Stempniak that got a revamped Sharks penalty kill off on the wrong foot.
Other than that, Niemi was quick with his glove in that first period and well-positioned to stop Flames forward Steve Begin on a short-handed breakaway. The Sharks also caught a break when rookie forward Sven Baerschi had a wide-open net and hit the post.
"We probably turned the puck over eight or nine times, and it wasn't just one guy," Marleau said of the first period. "Everybody took their turn. We knew we had to clean that up."
McLellan looked like a prophet, having predicted before the game that the high energy the players brought to the opener after the 119-day lockout would lead to early mistakes. After the game, he said improved play along the boards and more composure got things on the right track without any raised voices.
"It's Game 1," he said. "We're not going to yell and scream yet. And hopefully we won't have to. It was more about adjustments, about simplifying things. Players obviously responded the right way."
The Sharks needed only seven seconds of their own power play to even things up at 13:52 of the middle period. Joe Thornton stripped the puck from Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano, then fed Marleau for a backhander from just outside the crease.
Only 1:13 later, Marc-Edouard Vlasic launched the puck from the blue line. Deflected by Logan Couture, it went to Havlat, who didn't miss the empty net in front of him from short range. Then at 18:10, the Sharks widened the lead to two goals when Boyle found Marleau uncovered to the right of the Calgary net and set him up for a quick wrist shot.
"You normally don't get your first goal in January," Marleau said, referring to the delayed start of the season. "It was nice to get on the board early. It was one game, and we've got a lot more to go."
The Sharks dominated the second period even more than Calgary had controlled the first, outshooting the Flames 14-4. Neither team scored in the third until Calgary took a pair of penalties with 1:24 left and Boyle hammered the puck past Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff while the Sharks held a two-man advantage.
Players had different reactions to being back in NHL action for the first time since being eliminated from the playoffs on April 21.
"That's one thing I was trying to do, get the legs going," Marleau said. "It took the wind out of you, that's for sure, but as the game went on it felt a lot better."
Niemi said it helped to face so many shots early in the game -- especially since only one got past him. But it wasn't as if he needed that success to build his confidence.
"I felt good the whole training camp in San Jose so I thought I was ready," he said.
In a shortened 48-game season, each win becomes more important. But Sunday there was the sense that simply getting both teams back on the ice with crowds cheering was a victory of sorts.
"It was great to be back," Marleau said. "Even though it was their rink and their home opener, it was something special."
For the Sharks summary, go to Page 13.
Sharks (1-0-0) at Edmonton (1-0-0), 7 p.m., CSNCA