Antti Niemi saved everything but the Titanic on Sunday. He was great again on Tuesday, but he got a lot of help.
The Blackhawks blocked 23 shots, led by Brent Seabrook’s six, and Niemi kept 25 of 27 shots out of the net as the Hawks doubled up the Sharks in their building again, earning a 4-2 victory and a 2-0 series lead.
Niemi now has a .945 save percentage after two games, stopping 69 of 72 shots.
While Niemi’s strong play has been a theme through the last seven games, so has the Blackhawks getting traffic in front of the net. In Tuesday night’s win, the final three Blackhawks goals scored by Dustin Byfuglien, Jonathan Toews and Troy Brouwer were all redirected shots. The scoring continues to spread all over the Hawks roster, as six different players were credited with an assist. Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith each had two assists, while Kris Versteeg, Toews, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marian Hossa each had one.
On the Hawks first goal, Versteeg appeared to have a blow-out at the blue line that looked to open the door for a two-on-one. Versteeg fought his way back to his feet, broke up the rush, and fed the puck to Andrew Ladd for the first goal of the night.
Once Byfuglien scored the Hawks’ second goal at 6:59 in the second period, it started to become clear that the Blackhawks puck possession game was working and in full effect. Douglas Murray took a bad penalty for roughing Adam Burish less than 40 seconds after Byfuglien’s goal, and Toews scored on the subsequent power play. The three goal lead was too much for the Sharks best efforts.
Patrick Marleau scored both of the Sharks’ goals in the game, but San Jose’s top line has been a ghost in the series. In fact, other than Marleau’s goals, the most attention the line of Marleau-Joe Thornton-Dany Heatley received was when Thornton was taking cheap shots at Dave Bolland.
And Bolland earned every shot he took. He pestered Thornton all night, and was clearly in his head by the middle of the third period. Then the dust settled from Game Two, Thornton was -4 in the series already and -10 for the postseason. Despite Bolland winning only one of 11 faceoffs in the game, he was effective making life hell for San Jose’s top line.
Toews’ goal and assist (on Byfuglien’s goal) now give him 23 points this postseason, extending his lead on the entire playoffs. The Blackhawks’ captain is also +6 in the playoffs, a stark contracts from Thornton on the other side of the ice.
The win was the seventh straight on the road in the postseason for the Blackhawks, tying an NHL record for a single postseason.
Game Three is Friday night, when the Blackhawks will (finally) return to the United Center.