After having the Blackhawks put a touchdown on them at their building in November, the Sharks were certainly going to be more focused at the United Center on Tuesday night. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the most focused player on the ice was San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.
Nabokov had one of his better performances of the season, stopping 45 of 47 shots despite the Blackhawks getting seven power play opportunities as the Sharks stole a 3-2 win in front of another packed house.
The Sharks took an early lead when Dany Heatley put the puck top shelf on Cristobal Huet, who was not his best. From there, the first period was sloppy as the Hawks took two penalties and the Sharks were hit with three. Neither team established much of a flow, but the Hawks defense was at least keeping the Sharks from putting the puck on net; San Jose was only credited with four shots in the first period. Unfortunately, even with a 14-4 shot advantage, the Hawks were losing 1-0.
In the second it was more of the same. Joe Thornton put in a short handed goal just over five minutes into the period to give the Sharks a 2-0 lead, but the Hawks defense continued to keep the Sharks from getting many shots to Huet. After two periods, the Hawks held a 26-7 shot advantage, but were trailing 2-0 on the scoreboard.
Credit the sharpshooting Sharks for taking advantage for making their limited shots count. Depite their strong defensive presence, the Hawks made just enough mental mistakes to give good scorers opportunities and Huet wasn’t up to the challenge after posting consecutive shutouts.
The Hawks did everything they could to get the puck into the net in the third. Coach Joel Quenneville mixed up his lines to spark the offense, again, by switching Marian Hossa up to the line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Troy Brouwer bumped down to the second line with Patrick Sharp and Andrew Ladd. The combinations were effective at keeping the puck in San Jose’s zone; the Hawks dominated the puck possession in the period, but weren’t able to get the puck past Nabokov still.
Finally, four minutes into the third period, Kane attacked the net and put his own rebound past Nabokov in traffic to cut the San Jose lead in half. But that was when Huet let the team down.
Only 20 seconds after Kane’s goal brought energy back to the United Center crowd, Jason Demers beat Huet for San Jose’s third goal of the night. It was Demers’ second goal of the year, both coming against the Blackhawks. All of the momentum the Hawks had worked so hard to establish was thrown away in that one brief moment, and the Hawks never recovered.
Marian Hossa added his sixth goal of the season with just under two minutes left in the game, and the Hawks furiously threw the puck at Nabokov over the final two minutes, many of which were quality shots, only to be denied time after time. When the final horn sounded, the Sharks escaped with a victory despite being outshot in the third period 21-7.
The Sharks were effective at taking a lot of cheap shots late in plays and after the whistle, but got away with some of the extracurricular action. Still, the Sharks were hit with 21 penalty minutes in the game to the Hawks 14 in a game that wasn’t very well played in the neutral zone by either team. In a continuing issue of concern, the Hawks power play was ineffective on all seven opportunities on Tuesday night, but even the Sharks’ players were giving all the credit to Nabokov. After the game, San Jose captain Rob Blake told Versus that Nabokov should have been all three stars of the game, and he was probably right. Despite Kane having a goal and an assist, and Thornton scoring short handed, the story of the night was Nabokov.