All’s well that ends well for the Blackhawks in San Jose on Saturday afternoon. Even though the Hawks surrendered 45 shots – six each from Ryan Clowe, Devon Setoguchi and Dan Boyle – and didn’t have a power play all game, they were able to take a tie game into the third period and took over much of the last frame en route to their first Game 1 victory of this year’s playoffs.
The first belonged to the Sharks, though. After coming out of the gates hard, the Sharks found themselves on the power play – the second of their five overall – due to a Dustin Byfuglien interference penalty along the Shark blue line. On the man-advantage, Patrick Marleau corralled a puck before it escaped the Hawk zone and floated a pretty backhand mattress pass across ice to Jason Demers, newly registered Hawk killer. Demers fired a quick shot on net from the top of the circle. On its way to the net, the puck seemingly deflected off of Duncan Keith, the nearest Hawk defender. Antti Niemi didn’t react in time, and the Sharks had themselves a one-goal lead.
The Hawks wouldn’t be outdone, though. Niemi was nothing short of fantastic, especially during the game’s first two periods, where he saw a handful of great chances and dealt with a few dangerous scrums in front. One memorable save came on the penalty kill late in the second on Clowe, who was staring at an empty net to Niemi’s glove side. Niemi recovered to his left and smothered the shot along the ice with his glove.
After otherwise weathering the Sharks’ first period storm, the Hawks went into the second with the goal of turning up the tempo. After “activating the d-men” (to borrow a phrase from Eddie O), the Hawks were able to force the pace. (Each of the last two periods saw a combined 32 shots compared to the first period’s 21.) It paid dividends when the Hawks entered the Shark zone on a 4-on-3 about seven minutes into the frame. Keith crossed the line and sent a pass to the trailer, Patrick Sharp, in the middle of the ice. Sharp let a one-legged wrister go, and the puck hit a Sharks defender on the way to Evgeni Nabokov, who was beat 5-hole.
So, even after being outshot 31-22 during the first 40 minutes, the Hawks were able to enter the third tied. It would last just 13 more minutes. That’s when Jonathan Toews won a draw to Patrick Kane on the outside. Kane took a step towards the middle of the ice and found Dustin Byfuglien in the high slot. Big Buff caught the pass and let go a snap shot that beat Nabokov to the blocker side.
It was a rather long seven minutes that would follow, though. The Sharks pressured the Hawks for the last portion of the third, racking up another 14 shots during the final frame. Things came to a head when Dave Bolland took a tripping penalty with a minute left and Nabokov pulled. The referees made a mistake, sending Kris Versteeg to the box and leaving Bolland available to kill the penalty. The Sharks whiffed on a couple attempts and Niemi made a stop on Boyle with about 30 seconds left.
The win gives the Hawks the inside track on representing the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals, but don’t forget: it takes four wins to win a series. The first is nice, but they’ll have to take three more to make this a memorable spring.
Back with more thoughts sometime tomorrow.
Enjoy your Sunday evening (and Monday morning).