Initially, it wasn't easy crossing sides in a growing rivalry. It also has been an adjustment going from a traditional hockey market in Chicago to California's Bay Area, where the scrutiny and attention aren't as intense.

But Antti Niemi hasn't changed much. He's remembered in Chicago as a quiet but extremely confident goalie who delivered for the Blackhawks during their Stanley Cup season. The San Jose Sharks see him the same way.

''He's still a pretty quiet guy [who] goes about his business,'' Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.

But the Sharks are starting to describe Niemi in a way the Hawks never did in his magical one-year run. They call him a workhorse.

''He's been great,'' Sharks center Logan Couture said. ''Every night, he's a workhorse. He wants to play every single game. He competes so hard, whether it's in practice or a game. He's definitely a leader on the ice. His work ethic is the best I've seen out of any goaltender. We're glad to have him.''

Regardless of the outcome of their matchup Friday at HP

Pavilion, the Sharks have their No. 1 goalie for the stretch run and playoffs. The Hawks are still waiting for Corey Crawford or Ray Emery to take over.

''[Niemi's] been our guy for the last two years," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "He gets most of the games. He's played very well for us.''

While the Hawks benefitted from Niemi's talents, they didn't show nearly enough faith in his abilities to re-sign him. Instead, back-and-forth negotiations famously ended with the Hawks walking away from him at arbitration in August 2010 and receiving nothing in return.