Niemi steals game one in San Jose, Blackhawks win 2-1

Antti Niemi had one of the best games of his career, and prevented San Jose from capturing the first game of the Western Conference finals at home.

The Sharks retreated back to the style of play seen in the first few games against the Colorado Avalanche, having issues with the opposition's speed and giving up on the relentless forecheck that equaled a series win against the Detroit Red Wings. However, San Jose was able to pepper Antti Niemi with shots, putting 45 pucks at the Chicago netminder. Where many thought that Niemi would have trouble with the skill of the San Jose forwards, he played admirably and made some sparkling saves throughout the game. Surprisingly, it was the defense in front of Niemi that was porous, as many of the shots allowed were from good scoring areas. They were, though, able to clear second opportunities from the crease. The play of Niemi, and the lack of second opportunities, spelled disaster in game one for the Sharks.

On the other side of the ice, Evgeni Nabokov played a good game himself, but allowed a goal to Patrick Sharp in the second period on a tipped shot from the point that he would probably like to have back. The goal scored by Dustin Byfuglien was not Nabokov's fault, but instead the result of broken coverage off a face off. The Sharks defense had some issues with the speed of Chicago (like they did against Colorado), but more with Chicago's proficiency on the cycle. The Blackhawks showed why they're so dangerous on offense, but credit to the forwards for assisting in the defensive responsibilities.

On the positive side, the Sharks did play well against one of the best defensive units in the game; the 45 shots taken is an impressive total, as it's the most allowed by the Blackhawks in these playoffs by 10. Yes, the Sharks gave up a good amount of shots as well, but Nabokov didn't have to make as many difficult saves as Niemi, and most of those shots were during yet another second period where the Sharks fell victim to a lull. The Sharks dominated play in the first and for much of the third; you have to believe that they will be able to solve Niemi going forward in the series.

Another plus: the Sharks were able to continue drawing penalties. San Jose grabbed five man advantage opportunities during the game and didn't take a single penalty in 60 minutes. As the trend continues, you have to think that San Jose's advantage in this department is more a factor of their play and discipline than anything else. The 20% success rate is troubling, but the special teams unit looked good and dealt with the speed of Chicago's killers throughout the game. It would have been nice if Bolland served the penalty he took against Setoguchi, but that's nitpicking. The Sharks have to capitalize.

There's not much more to be said about the game, it was a solid match by both teams and Sharks fans can take many positives out of the game, even though they ultimately lost. The Sharks can build upon the effort put forth in game one, but have some adjustments to make. First, they have to step up the physical game against Chicago, punishing their smallish defense in the same fashion that they did against Detroit. Second, they have to be more aware defensively in all situations, as Chicago showed they can score from any part of the zone. Third, they need to capitalize.

Even with the loss, the Sharks should have a good amount of confidence from this game. They'll come out a bit more desperate and hopefully that translates into a few more pucks getting behind Niemi.