Coming into the night's game, it was tough to be optimistic about the Sharks chances against the juggernaut Blackhawks tonight. San Jose was on the second night of back-to-backs and are still missing five forwards due to injury. But it didn't seem to matter. The Sharks were able to grind out the 3-2 victory in the shootout with a spectacular night from Alex Stalock in goal.
Stalock wasn't the only unfamiliar face in the lineup tonight. Rookie forward Eriah Hayes made his NHL debut. And despite some initial skepticism on how well a Hayes - McCarthy - Brown line would work, he seemed to hold his own.
When the game first started, the Hawks were as dominant as you would expect. Through the first 8 minutes, shots were 7-1 in favor of Chicago. But the Sharks were able to weather the storm and turn things around thanks to a spectacular shift by the second line - their first of many! Matt Nieto and Logan Couture were able to run a good cycle out of the corner, with Couture moving behind the net and finding a wide open Jason Demers. Demers quickly threw it across the body of Corey Crawford and into the net for the first goal of the game. 1-0 Sharks. Demers from Couture and Nieto at 10:12 of the first.
San Jose was able to hang onto the lead through the rest of the period, without too many more notable plays. One exception was Brandon Bollig's roughing penalty late in the game that Mike Brown was able to draw. That's only notable because it was the only penalty in the entire game.
Shots and chances seemed to pick up for both sides in the second period. It was also the period where the line match-ups really stood out. The Toews line was dismantling Thornton's on a consistent basis tonight. It seemed like head coach Todd McLellan did what he could to avoid that match-up, but Chicago having last change meant that Jumbo saw a steady stream of Sharp, Toews, and Hossa for the majority of the night. As dominant as Toews was against Thornton though, it seemed like Couture's line was just as impressive whenever they stepped out onto the ice. By my count, that line ended up with 2-on-1 opportunies on 4 different occasions in the game, as well as a 3-on-1. Nieto's speed just seems to take that line to another level.
The Sharks patchwork bottom six also seemed to play to a draw with the Blackhawks depth. After two periods of play, shots were nearly even at 24-23 San Jose, with that one extra shot being the difference on the scoreboard as well. But that wouldn't hold too long into the third.
Off a faceoff in the Sharks zone, the Hawks were able to quickly move the puck around the boards before finding a wide open Niklas Hjalmarsson stepping into the slot. 1-1 tie. Hjalmarsson from Toews and Sharp at 1:27 of the third. Chicago kept the pressure going after the goal and would take the lead before long. Marcus Kruger quickly entered the Sharks zone and put on the brakes along the boards (a page right out of Patrick Marleau's playbook), before finding the open man on the blueline. Michal Rozsival ripped it past Stalock for the goal. 2-1 Blackhawks. Rozsival from Kruger at 4:01 of the third.
Another good shift by Marleau and Nieto seemed to turn the tide, and Thornton's line followed up on the momentum. Jumbo's line was able to grind out the puck behind the net before throwing it up to Vlasic. Vlasic got it back to Thornton below the dot, who then sent a beautiful backhand saucer pass backdoor from Brent Burns. 2-2 tie. Burns from Thornton and Vlasic at 11:10 of the third.
With about two minutes left, the Blackhawks were buzzing and had a couple chances to take the lead back, but Stalock stood tall. The Sharks, in turn, then got some great chances of their own as time expired in regulation. This game had to go to bonus time. But even the overtime wasn't enough. Both teams had their chances to end it in OT: Stalock stufffed Toews on a wraparound attempt, then Braun missed an opportunity on a 3-on-1 down on the other end of the ice.
Once the game made it to the shootout, it was all San Jose. Toews, Couture, and Sharp all tried going backhand-forehand, but only Couture was able to score. Joe Pavelski then ripped the game winner past Crawford to send the Chicago crowd home disappointed (and cold). Sharks win 3-2 in the shootout!
- Shots actually finished up 42-35 in favor of San Jose, despite all my "grinding it out" narratives. Even against a team like Chicago, if you can put up 40+ shots, you're going to have a great chance to win.
- The referees really let these two teams play tonight, for better or worse. Even so, a great show of discipline by San Jose to keep Chicago off of the man advantage.
- All in all, a great night for San Jose when looking at zone entries, but especially from James Sheppard. He was phenomenal in that area tonight when the Sharks really needed him and the bottom six to step up.
- Considering the level of competition Matt Nieto is facing on the Couture and Marleau line, it's hard not to be impressed with his production. He now has 3 assists in his last 4 games.
- Eriah Hayes with a solid debut tonight. I apologize for comparing Hayes - McCarthy - Brown to the Semenov - Shelley - Staubitz line. He was leading Worcester in shots when he was called up. I'll definitely take that kind of player over a facepuncher filling up space on the fourth line.
FTF 3 Stars
1st star: Alex Stalock
2nd star: Logan Couture
3rd star: Patrick Sharp