Sharks inch past Blackhawks in intense overtime affair, Ryane Clowe scores twice as San Jose powers to 2-1 win over defending Stanley Cup champs

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Sunday, December 12, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi earns second win against his former team Chicago

San Jose Sharks Chicago Blackhawks third period scrum fight

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford

San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc Edouard Vlasic scores 2 assists vs Chicago Blackhawks

Sometimes scoreboards lie. Thursday in the finale of a grueling 5-game road trip in Buffalo, the Sharks were apparently shelled 6-3. In reality San Jose battled back twice to bring the game within a goal, only to succumb to a costly turnover at the start of the third period. Saturday night on home ice at HP Pavilion, a tight Western Conference Final rematch between the Sharks and Blackhawks devolved from a game of feet, to a game of inches in the third period and overtime. The final scoreboard read a 2-1 overtime win for the San Jose Sharks, but the game on the ice hinged on every mistake and was a physical test of wills until the final horn.

Three weeks earlier goaltender Antti Niemi got the pleasantries out of the way with regards to facing his former team. #31 for San Jose stopped 30 shots and locked down an impressive 5-2 win. It was as much a morale victory as a concrete one against the team that walked away from him in arbitration, and it was against the goaltender that replaced him (Marty Turco). In his first full NHL season with Chicago in 2009-10, Niemi accomplished what past Blackhawks greats Tony Esposito (15 years), Ed Belfour (8 years) and Nikolai Khabibulin (4 years) could not. The quiet Finnish netminder helped bring a Stanley Cup back to Chicago and cap one of the NHL’s great turnarounds. His legacy in Chicago is engraved in silver.

Saturday night Niemi would face off against a streaking Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, who had won each of his last 7 games. The game was uneven early.

“I thought both teams (went to the net and got shots). They did the same thing to us. I don’t know if both teams had the polish, or if they were as sharp as they wanted to be,” San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said of the Blackhawks after the game. “I know our team wasn’t. The good sign is we found a way to fight through it. We found our legs later in the game, we started to play the right way. We found a way to win a tough game to play.”

After the Sharks finished the most difficult road trip of the season 3-2, there were concerns about stamina playing the Blackhawks on only one day of rest, even with the absence of Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa due to injuries. The Sharks went with the same lineup, although there was some pregame misdirection with regards to forward lines and the starting goaltender. “They are a very strong matching team, our lines weren’t even the same from the beginning of the night to the end of the night,” McLellan said. “It can change on a whim.”

Before the game McLellan cited the need for the Sharks to play with a lead, and for many players to establish a more defensively responsible play in their own zone. That defensive play begins with hard work, and it can spark offensive opportunities in the other direction. Midway through the first period defenseman Jason Demers gave the Sharks the opportunity to work with a lead to start the game. The 22-year old passed to himself off the right boards, and blew by Niklas Hjalmarsson with several quick strides. Before cutting towards the net, Demers fired a hard angle pass to a driving Ryane Clowe. Clowe had timed the rush perfectly, and used an extended stick to deflect the puck high into the far side of the net.

Goals against Corey Crawford have been at a premium over the last 4 weeks of the season. The former Rockford IceHog supplanted Marty Turco for the starting position in Chicago. In his current 7-game win streak, Crawford has allowed 2 goals or less in 5 of them. “We weren’t really familiar with (Crawford),” San Jose Sharks left wing Ryane Clowe said after the game. “In the first we were throwing some long range shots, they were coming in the middle… sending the wingers in and collapsing low.” The Blackhawks defense did require adjustments for San Jose according to Clowe. “The points were open. It was one of those games where the defense was going to get opportunities.”

The next shift after a goal has been a volatile one recently for San Jose, both good and bad. 41 seconds after Clowe scored, Jack Skille took a high sticking call for the Blackhawks. The Sharks were 4-16 on the power play on the 5-game road trip, but against Chicago they would not make an impact finishing 0-for-2. Before the game Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said that his power play needed to do two things to be effective, score goals or put the opponents on their heels and change the momentum of the game. Saturday night special teams would not be a determining factor.

At the end of the first period, a fluke play resulted in a goal for defenseman turned fourth line forward Jordan Henry. In his first game since November 7th, an aggressive Henry drove down low to the left of Niemi. He was checked off the play by defenseman Niclas Wallin, but the puck continued to travel foward along the goal line. Niemi did not completely seal off the post, and the puck deflected off of his back leg and in to tie the game at 1-1. It was a costly mistake that could have had the Sharks second guessing themselves during the first intermission, instead they nearly added another goal at the end of the period. Benn Ferriero fired a quick 1-timer that was pulled off the goal line with a desperation stick swipe by Corey Crawford.

The Sharks started the second period pressing hard, at times a little too much. Repeatedly the Sharks were caught with three forwards deep or behind the goal line, allowing Chicago to create odd man rushes in the other direction. A Jack Skille shot with Viktor Stalberg driving the net apparently beat Niemi 5-hole, but the referee immediately waived off the goal saying that he blew the whistle. Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenville was apoplectic on the bench, waiving his arms in the air and shaking the plexiglass behind the bench. “It’s one of those plays, sometimes they go against you. You can’t really complain,” a more composed Quenville told the media after the game.

With last change on home ice, Sharks coach McLellan switched up the Thornton-Heatley-Pavelski top line to Thornton-Heatley-Mitchell in the second period. An akward collision between Clowe, Troy Brouwer and Niklas Hjalmarsson left Brouwer worse for wear in front of the Sharks bench. Brouwer tried to angle off Logan Couture, although neither forward had the puck. As Couture slid away from the check, Brouwer ran into the shoulder of Clowe. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Clowe tripped and landed on the head of Brouwer, then the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Hjalmarsson tripped and also landed on Brouwer. The defensive Blackhawks forward was slow returning to the bench, and he was treated for what might have been a skate blade that had gotten up around his face. Niemi made a pair of solid saves on Skille, and another bank attempt from behind the net to keep the game tied at 2-2.

In the third period both teams seemed to flip a switch and turn it into playoff intensity mode. The Sharks made a mistake last year not ramping up the intensity enough to face the Western Conference’s second best regular season team. The Blackhawks earned an embarassing 7-2 win at HP Pavilion, and gained more confidence with a 4-3 OT win at the Tank later in the season. It gave Chicago an edge that carried over into the Western Conference Final series, and it was an edge the Sharks did not want to yield again this season.

Dany Heatley performed a wicked backhand to forehand deke that turned around defenseman Brent Seabrook, and left him alone on Crawford. Heatley tried to wrist a shot under the arm of Crawford, but Crawford swallowed up the shot. Before the game Crawford told the Chicago media that he felt no pressure to obtain individual accomplishments, instead he said the he felt he had to stop every shot he faced.

San Jose had the advantage of offensive zone time in the third period, although each team finished with an identical 8 shots on goal. When Chicago got the puck low around Niemi, several Blackhawks players collapsed into the crease. Twice bodies had to be pulled out of the blue paint by the referees, and the second time hostilities ensued. Joe Thornton dived on a loose puck to freeze the play, and a long whistle lead to a rugby scrum in front of the Sharks goal. Thornton tussled with Jonathan Toews, and Heatley had extended words with Duncan Keith. On the ensuing faceoff, Thornton cross checked Toews hard in the faceoff circle, before drawing the puck back to his left. As the Sharks started their transition, Thornton let loose with two more cross checks before Toews responded in kind.

Both teams were equally matched in the overtime period, but it was the combination of Benn Ferriero and Ryane Clowe up front that would put the Sharks over the top. Ferriero helped dig the puck out of his own zone, before skating 200 feet to set up in front of Crawford. In the offensive zone, rookie defenseman Justin Braun fed a short pass to Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the left side. Vlasic found an unmarked Ryane Clowe on the right side, and fired a long cross ice pass to the open winger. As Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford cheated over to their right, Clowe 1-timed a shot that found the back of the net inside the post. 2-1 Sharks.

“Benny (Ferriero) made a nice play to me, and we turned a 3-on-2 into a scoring opportunity,” Clowe said of his game winning goal in overtime. “Pickles shot got blocked. He had a good shot on his first shift that went over the net. I was screaming for it when he was coming down ready to shoot.”

San Jose earned their second straight win over Chicago this season, and it was Antti Niemi’s first time earning a victory in overtime. “It’s the first overtime win for me this season. It’s just a great atmosphere because it surprises everybody, scoring in overtime.” Asked about how he felt not having to go to the shootout, “It’s a relief you don’t have to go,” Niemi said.

In a pre-game meeting with the media, San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan noted how his team has to approach the season. “Every night is a playoff game,” he said. “That can be a really good thing, or it could come back and bite you if you don’t realize and unerstand that at the end of the year.”

Game Notes: After going 27 games without a point, defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic now has 3 points (1G, 2A) in his last 2 games. Rookie defenseman Justin Braun has 1 goal and 6 assists in 9 games since being called up from Worcester of the AHL on November 26th. Jason Demers, 3 points in 3 games, Niclas Wallin, 2 points in 4 games, and Douglas Murray, 2 points in 4 games, are starting to find the scoresheet for a team that struggled for production from the backend early. Dan Boyle, third on the team with 17 assists, has 2 points in his last 6 games. Chicago Blackhawks defenseman John Scott is officially a large human at 6-foot-8, 258 pounds. According to, John Scott has won 12 of his 13 NHL fights over the last three seasons. The 13th fight was a draw. Second year defenseman Jason Demers stepped up for a big check on Scott in the second period, but he bounced wide. Demers briefly stood up to Scott before realizing he was face to face with one of the most dominant heavyweights in the league. He skated back into the play. The Sharks next face Chicago twice on the road, December 30th (5:30PM) and March 14th (5PM). With the win, San Jose joines a 5 team tie for 5th through 9th place in the Western Conference with 34 points.

A photo gallery from the game is available here.

[Update] Corey Crawford Takes on Former Rival, Antti Niemi – Susan Slusser for Fanhouse.

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