Antti Niemi had just made 41 saves, then stopped the puck three more times for good measure in a shootout win. So, it was appropriate for Sharks captain Joe Thornton to gush about his goaltender.

"You've been watching the same as us. He's been great for a long time. Last night he was great, tonight he was great. Three games ago he was great," Thornton said after the Sharks edged the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Tuesday night. "Every night he gives us a chance to win, and I think he's the best goalie in the world."

The thing is, others are starting to agree with Thornton.

Niemi is gaining traction as a legitimate contender for the Vezina Trophy given annually to the NHL's -- and presumably the world's -- best netminder. The league's general managers vote over the next two weeks, and the three finalists should include Niemi, who will get his 22nd straight start Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild at HP Pavilion.

"For me, the Vezina buck stops with San Jose's Antti Niemi," wrote ESPN national columnist Scott Burnside. "Niemi has been the catalyst to a Sharks resurgence after a horrible stretch of play."

The spotlight is nothing new for Niemi, who helped the Chicago Blackhawks eliminate the Sharks in the 2010 Western Conference finals en route to a Stanley Cup parade down Michigan Avenue.

Coach Todd McLellan won't compare Niemi's game then and now, but he does agree with those who say his play warrants Vezina consideration.

"Nemo deserves to be part of that conversation leaguewide when people begin to talk about potential candidates for those awards," McLellan said. "His numbers speak for themselves."