Chicago Blackhawks hand Sharks worst loss in 2 months, five goals allowed in second results in 6-3 blowout

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

If you were going to pick a game to have an off night, a high profile matchup on national television against the team that swept you in the Conference Finals would not be that choice. Instead the Versus/NBC/Comcast analysts, 22,094 fans at the United Center, and hundreds of thousands of television viewers witnessed a 2-1 Sharks lead after 20 minutes evaporate into a 6-3 loss after 40. A pair of power play goals by Marian Hossa and an even strength goal by Jonathan Toews chased goaltender Antti Niemi from his 25th straight start. Backup goaltender Antero Niittymaki, returning from a 24 game absence due to groin problems, blunted the subsequent Chicago blitz but still allowed goals to Niklas Hjalmarsson and Patrick Kane. A tight checking Sharks team that had won three previous meetings with Chicago this season faded down the stretch, and collectively took a mulligan against the team directly behind them in the Western Conference standings. It was their third straight loss.

“If I was going to sum up the game: They skated, we glided,” San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan told ESPN Chicago. “They were hard on the boards, we were soft. They were determined at the net, we played ‘I hope’ around the net.” It was a flashback to sloppy and tentative play that plagued the Sharks earlier in the season. Center Joe Pavelski said this is a decidedly different team. “We’re in a different spot right now and we’re not looking back there. That’s done with. We’re a much better team. We’re a much different team and we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to,” Pavelski told David Pollak of the Mercury News.

Versus analyst Mike Milbury noted that good teams can stem the bleeding after 1 goal against, the implication being the Sharks were not. On this night, he was right. After Patrick Marleau was sent off early in the second period for hooking, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski each failed to clear the puck high in their defensive zone. Patrick Kane was able to regather the puck, send it Patrick Sharp on the opposite point, and Hossa buried a cross-ice pass into the open net before Niemi could get over. Hossa’s 21st goal of the season came less than three minutes later in the period, this time with Devin Setoguchi off for hooking. Patrick Sharp came quick on the rush up the right wing, and he found Hossa with his stick on the ice in the middle of the slot. Hossa snapped the puck 5-hole past Niemi before he could close down his pads.

Head coach Todd McLellan has adjusted lines on the fly this season, moving up forwards who were clicking onto the top line with a Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe, or Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. McLellan put Ben Eager up on the top line with Thornton and Marleau in an attempt to add a veteran energy shift, and it backfired. Eager was caught in no man’s land as the puck trickled up ice in the defensive zone. Brent Seabrook beat him for possession and pushed the play up ice for a 3-on-1 breakaway. A backchecker picked up the trailing forward, but Jonathan Toews outwaited Niemi and deposited the puck 5-hole. Niemi seemed to be caught in a no man’s land of his own, the danger area between going down too early and going down too late.

McLellan made the coaching decision to pull Niemi for Niittymaki, instead of saving the backup netminder for the second night of back-to-back’s in Dallas. “It was a complete team meltdown and every position on the team was included in that,” McLellan responded when asked about pulling Niemi. Hjalmarsson scored on a point shot through traffic, and Patrick Kane scored his 100th career goal on a 1-timer in front to continue the onslaught. After the game Niittymaki noted that the final half of the second period was a struggle, but once he got his feet under him he started to adapt to the speed and pace of live game action.

The Sharks have battled back from a number of deficits, and have earned a number of close wins with 16 one goal games over their last 20. An early holding call on Jason Demers delayed the attempted third period comeback, but the Sharks would outshoot Chicago 16-6 over the final 20 minutes. They could not put another puck past rookie goaltender Corey Crawford. Crawford stopped 33 of 36 shots against, and earned his 27th win on the season. Niemi stopped 14 of 18 shots against in 27:25 of ice time, and Niittyamki stopped 14 of 16 shots over the remaining 32:35. The Sharks have allowed 6 power play goals against over the last 4 games, and have seen their PK percentage drop down to 23rd in the league (80.3%). Chicago also won the faceoff battle 31-26 (54%), and blocked 20 shots to San Jose’s 8.

Asked by Versus analyst Pierre McGuire how he adjusts from Ovechkin on Sunday night, to Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook was circumspect. “It is tough. The players we played against the last two nights are so dynamic, they can score in so many different ways. It was a good 2 points tonight, and it was a good point last night (against Washington). We would have liked to two points last night, but 3 points back-to-back against very good teams, we’ll take it and we are happy with it.”

[Update] Blackhawks’ second-period explosion puts away Sharks – Chicago Sun Times.

[Update2] Blackhawks top Sharks, chase Niemi – Hossa has 2 power-play tallies, Sharp contributes 4 assists – Chicago Tribune.

The top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp again did much of the damage as the trio combined for eight points. Toews and Kane each had a goal and an assist while Sharp had a career-high four assists. Marian Hossa had two goals and Viktor Stalberg and Niklas Hjalmarsson also scored as the Hawks snapped a three-game losing streak.

[Update3] Cutting Bait: Post Game Notes – Mike Lee for

- Not all is lost. The Sharks finished the regular season with a 3-1-0 record against Chicago. They were 1-1-2 last year in the regular season, outscoring the Sharks 17-11. What’s worse is they were 0-4 in the Western Conference Finals, getting outscored 13-7. San Jose outscored the Blackhawks 15-12 this season.

- With his goal, Joe Thornton moved into the top 30 in NHL scoring. His 57 points trails scoring leader Daniel Sedin (38 goals, 52 assists) by a mere 37 points.

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