It can be easy to assume that NHL players who emerge from the assembly line of the Finland goalie factory would know each other well.

But that often isn't the case and won't be Tuesday night, when the Sharks and Nashville Predators square off with Antti Niemi in net for the visitors and Pekka Rinne occupying the same spot for the home team.

Niemi and Rinne are both 28, though the Nashville netminder is nine months older and has an extra 79 games in the NHL. The Sharks goalie does remember playing against him a couple times in Finland at age 19 -- but that's about it.

Never teammates, not even in national competition. Didn't go through the same training program. No contact away from the ice.

"He's from north Finland," Niemi explained.

In one sense, the two got to know each other in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs. Rinne and Niemi, who was with the Chicago Blackhawks, battled it out in the series that Nashville lost in six games.

Since coming to the Sharks last season, Niemi has two shootout victories -- 2-1 on Feb. 15 and 3-2 on March 8 -- over Rinne, who won 2-1 in regulation on Jan. 8.

San Jose enters Tuesday night's game on a mini-roll, having won in New Jersey and Boston after dropping three of four to start the season. Niemi will be coming off his best of three outings, a 4-2 victory over the Bruins in which he made 37 saves.