There were times during the later parts of the last decade the beginning of this decade, during the Bob Pulford Era (aka “The Dark Ages”) when the Detroit Red Wings toyed with the Blackhawks.
Those Hawks teams didn’t have as much talent (or salary) as the minor league affiliates of the Red Wings, and it was obvious. Detroit looked like a group of big brothers practicing at the expense of their much younger siblings.
On Wednesday night in San Jose, it was the Blackhawks treating the Sharks in that same manner.
What’s striking about that statement, indeed even that thought, is that the Sharks aren’t an underpaid, overwhelmed group of losers like many of those Hawks teams were that Detroit handled so easily. The Sharks team that the Blackhawks utterly destroyed on Wednesday night had the best record in the Western Conference coming into the game.
In fact, San Jose came into the game 7-0-2 at home, and had scored the most power play goals in hockey.
Which is why really the only reaction to the second period on Wednesday night is “Wow.”
Earlier on Wednesday, I cautioned Blackhawks fans to temper their optimism over the insertion of Marian Hossa into arguably the best team in the NHL. I didn’t want to jump all over the “Nobody Can Stop Chicago” Bandwagon that so many fans and media members were willing to join.
I was wrong.
The way the Blackhawks played on Wednesday night not only is worthy of any and every bandwagon imagineable, but it undoubtedly puts the rest of the NHL on notice that one of the youngest teams in the league might now be the best.
The Blackhawks defense has been special all year, and their penalty killing unit was the best in the league. On Wednesday night, the PK became an offensive weapon for the Blackhawks as they blitzed the Sharks out of their own building.
The top line for the Sharks, consisting of Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton, was supposed to be the marquee matchup with the Hawks never-before-seen line of Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. By the middle of the second period, the Sharks were scrambling and their three stars were no longer skating together.
In the first period, Troy Brouwer cracked the scoring column with a short handed goal. Duncan Keith made a great pass to a streaking Brouwer who put a missile into the back of the net.
That wasn’t the only shortie of the night.
In the second period, within 28 seconds of each other, Hossa and Patrick Sharp both scored short handed goals on breakaways to extend the Hawks’ lead to 3-0. By the time the dust settled from San Jose’s timeout after the third goal, the momentum was fully in possession of the Hawks and the crowd was stunned.
In an arena that sat in numb silence, the second period ended after Dustin Byfuglien put a rebound back to make it 4-0 Hawks.
Through two periods, the puck control was remarkable from the Hawks. Their defense had completely demolished one of the top scoring teams in hockey, and they made one of the best goaltenders in hockey look like he was headed for the AHL before the zamboni left the ice.
Evgeni Nabokov hadn’t lost in a month, but didn’t play the third period Wednesday night. He came in 14-3-4 and only allowing 2.19 goals per night; the Hawks scored four on 29 shots and ran him out the door.
The crowd in San Jose continued to give their team the business throughout a third period that could have seen the Hawks put it in neutral. After all, they were playing their fourth consecutive game on the road in the middle of a long trip and were up by enough to ease off the gas peddle.
Just over five minutes into the third, Brent Seabrook scored an even-strength goal just to mix it up a little; Wednesday night was just the fifth time in franchise history that the Hawks scored three short handed goals in one game.
Exactly 60 seconds later, Hossa scored his second goal of the night on a great pass from Brent “Where Am I Headed Today?” Sopel. Sopel’s been the most popular trade rumor victim on the roster over the past couple weeks, but has continued to play well despite the whispers.
A little more than five minutes after Hossa’s second goal, John Madden was feeling down on his luck; he hadn’t scored a goal yet and the new guy had already scored two. So he put in his fifth goal of the season, the seventh of the night for the Blackhawks, and the disgust from the fans in northern California was moving for the exits.
In the four games to begin to begin a trip that used to kill the Blackhawks, they have outscored some of the top teams in the Western Conference 20-5.
The Sharks broke the shutout with a two-man advantage late in the third, and then Huet allowed a lazy goal from the point make the score 7-2. The win was the Hawks’ eighth in a row, during which they have only allowed 13 goals.
The Hawks were led by three assists from Keith and Hossa’s two goals. Keith was also +4 on the night. Huet stopped 22 of 24 shots to earn the win. The Blackhawks outshot the Sharks 41-24 on the night, with four of those shots coming from Hossa.