Sharks start strong but finish with a whimper, lose to the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime

San Jose hasn't set the bar very high for themselves in December, but tonight against the Blackhawks they looked like a team that entered the season as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. They were strong on the puck, dangerous in transition, and controlled the flow of play for nearly the entire game.

Up until the third period that is, where Chicago showed the type of resilence San Jose has unfortunately been lacking as of late. Antti Niemi took every opportunity to remind fans what kind of performance he is capable of when facing his former team in the third period, but it wasn't enough to stifle the waves of Blackhawks that pounded the puck on net and refused to give up.

Marcus Kruger, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp tallied for the Blackhawks in their come from behind overtime victory, and Ray Emery turned in an admirable 35 save performance. Niemi made 31 saves, including 15 in a stellar third period, while Jamie McGinn and Justin Braun scored for San Jose.

Games between these two teams are always up-tempo exciting affairs, and tonight was no exception. Compared to the snooze fest last night against the Blues, this game was like an album release party hosted by Rick James; if you blacked out from boredom last night, you probably blacked out from a lack of oxygen tonight. Both clubs had their opportunities throughout the tilt, with the Blackhawks controlling the first five minutes, San Jose cracking skulls in the middle portion, and Chicago dominating the last twenty minutes of the tilt.

Jamie McGinn opened the scoring for San Jose, potting his fourth goal in six games. After a shot from Handzus found its way to the front of the net, McGinn utilized his big body and physical presence in front of the net to spread out wide and start taking some wacks at the loose puck. The third time was the charm for McGinn, who banged one past Emery at the 16:25 to give San Jose the lead.

McGinn's transition into a legitimate scoring threat this season has been spectacular, as he has begun to flash the potential many of us expected of him when he scored 10 goals in 59 games during the 2009-2010 season. After a dissapointing 2010-2011 campaign that saw him score a mere one goal, McGinn has rocketed up the scoring output. His evolution from a man dealing with the demons of Brad Staubitz, Rob Niedermayer, Todd Marchant into a toaster strudel cat flying through space is quite remarkable.

Too much McGinn praise for you after a brutal overtime loss, bitter Sharks fan? Hell, with the Sharks 2-5-1 in their last eight games, we'll take all the positives we can get.

The Sharks dominated the middle frame, outshooting the Blackhawks 16-5 and generating long periods of sustained zone time. Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan was able to roll four lines with regularity in the period, as all 18 skaters seemed to make noticeable plays throughout what was probably San Jose's best period of December. They haven't set the bar very high this month of course, but that level of dominance does indicate things may be beginning to turn around.

Despite the effort however, Chicago was able to strike first in the frame. A San Jose turnover entering the offensive zone went the other way and the Blackhawks entered the zone quickly before setting up shop. Nick Leddy found Niklas Hjalmarsson at the point where he opened up and drove a shot that was deflected by Marcus Kruger before beating Niemi.

San Jose would respond a mere 1:45 later, as the fourth line continued to use their size and speed to wreak havoc for Chicago defenseman below the circles. Brad Winchester did an admirable job of fighting off a couple of Blackhawks before sending a clean pass through the box to Justin Braun. Braun, who had crept up to the top of the right circle, received the pass and waited for Andrew Murray to get some traffic in front of Emery before wristing a puck into the back of the net.

The third period was a brutal outing for San Jose, as everything they managed to do right for the first forty minutes was lost as soon as they came out of the locker room for the final push. It's hard to diagnose what exactly what went wrong, but it's easy to state that nothing went right-- San Jose was held without a single shot on net for the first 11:20 of the period, which might be their longest shotless streak in any period over the last few seasons.

We're not narcissists so we're not going to double check that assertion, but rest assured, it was not pretty.

The Blackhawks on the other hand were excellent, even as Antti Niemi's heroic performance continued to baffle them for 18 minutes and 54 seconds. The Hawks outshot the Sharks 16-3 in the third period with wave after wave of scoring attacks, in large part due to their mobile defensive core that Joel Quinneville greenlit to start the frame. Marian Hossa looked like a Liam Neeson character out on the ice, blowing his way through the San Jose defense and generating countless scoring opportunities for his team.

The Blackhawks would finally solve Niemi off a faceoff in the offensive zone. A quick D to D pass off a won draw ended up in the back of the net after it careened off what looked like a couple bodies and sticks on its way to the net-- Andrew Brunette was the last to touch it for the Hawks, whose late push sent an already buzzing United Center crowd into pure pandemonium.

The overtime period wasn't any prettier for the Sharks, who were outshot 5-1 and struggled to get any type of worthy offensive attack on Ray Emery. With 34 seconds remaining in overtime the deed was sealed-- a shot from Marian Hossa glanced off of Niemi and into the crease, where Patrick Sharp banged it home and ended a weekend in the midwest the Sharks would like to forget.

San Jose now heads to Colorado for a game against the Avalanche on Tuesday. It remains to be seen which Sharks team will show up at the Pepsi Center-- the one who got contributions from all four lines and three defensive pairs as they dominated Chicago for nearly half the game, or the one who collectively came apart in the third period besides the brilliant Niemi (seriously, we can't give him enough credit for pushing it to OT).

The lessons from tonight are there for San Jose to learn from, even if those lessons are being delivered with nails scorching down the chalkboard-- anything less than a sixty minute effort isn't going to get it done in this League.

Especially against a team like the Blackhawks, who proved tonight why they can be considered one of the League's best.

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