San Jose Sharks downed 4-3 by dominant Chicago Blackhawks

Coming into tonight's game Antti Niemi's career line against the Blackhawks was a sparkling 4-1-1 with a 2.32 GAA and .926 SV%.

He lived up those previous performances with some stellar saves, but defensive breakdowns and a swarming Chicago attack would render his efforts fruitless as the Sharks suffered their first regulation loss of the calendar year.

Joe Pavelski, Jamie McGinn, and Tommy Wingels would score for the Sharks, as Wingels scored his first NHL regulation goal of his NHL career. The Blackhawks top line of Jonathan Toews, Viktor Stalberg, and Patrick Kane were all over the ice and scoreboard tonight, putting in one of the more dominating performances against the Sharks top line in the last 30 days.

It was an up-tempo game from the drop of the puck, with the Hawks holding the large edge in chances and dominating the play. Duncan Keith rocked one off the post in the early going, and Niemi made his best save of the season when he slid across the crease to desperately snatch a Patrick Kane one-timer out of the air in the early portion of the period.

The Blackhawks would capitalize on their momentum get on the board first after a nice passing play behind the Sharks net. Veteran Andrew Brunette, who drove the puck down to the end line with Justin Braun on his tail, would kick the puck to Jimmy Hayes who wasted no time sending it to Dave Bolland on the short side. The red-hot Bolland would take advantage of Niemi briefly losing track of the puck and wrist one high short-side for the goal.

The Blackhawks top line would come back late in the first period and run the Sharks ragged with some cycling low in the zone. With San Jose chasing the puck around in the zone, Jonathan Toews would make a brilliant pass that sliced through the Sharks defensive alignment and found Viktor Stalberg all alone in front. Stalberg would tap one into the gaping net and give Chicago a 2-0 lead that looked nearly insurmountable considering the pace of the game thus far.

In the second period, San Jose would make those concerns irrelevant in a matter of 26 seconds.

Pavelski would score after Vlasic waited out the Hawks at the blueline and sent a puck to the net that was deflected by Pavelski in the high slot, and Jamie McGinn would score twenty six seconds later after Torrey Mitchell did a good job of sealing the boards and keeping the play alive. McGinn would corral the loose puck before driving hard to the net and bang home from a horrible angle that beat Crawford.

With the game tied at two, and momentum now favoring San Jose, the Sharks seemed primed to put a dagger into the United Center crowd.

As is the norm between these two teams however, the momentum would not stand.

After Chicago sent a dump-in into the zone, Niemi went behind the net to play the puck. The puck would go into a scrum and get kicked out to the sideboards however, with Jonathan Toews receiving the ensuing pass from Kane and beating Pavelski to the net. It was an easy tip-in for Toews, who potted his 24th of the year to give Chicago a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

The second period was much of the same for San Jose, who couldn't manage to string together consecutive shifts in a row that pinned the Hawks in their own zone. The Sharks were held without a shot for around 13 minutes in the second period, with credit going to Chicago's quick attack and a lack of execution from San Jose contributing to the issues.

San Jose would get the first power play of the game that spanned the end of the second and beginning of the third period, but couldn't manage to capitalize.

Chicago would strike shortly afterwards.

Off the rush the ever dangerous Marian Hossa would slide the puck over to Marcus Kruger to open up the middle portion of the ice. Kruger would drive down the middle of the ice and put one on net where Demers lost track of Andrew Shaw who had no issues tapping in the rebound that was floating in the crease.

The momentum and chances would continue to tilt heavily in Chicago's tilt during the third period, but the Sharks would get that ever important goal to cut the lead to one with 5 minutes left in the third period. A shot from the point generated a rebound in the crease where Tommy Wingels jumped on it to pot his first goal in his career.

A late power play with Niemi pulled in the last minute of the game would provide some decent chances, but Crawford managed to hold the fort and hand San Jose their first regulation loss of 2012.

The Sharks definitely deserved their fate tonight, as Chicago outshot San Jose 40-24 throughout the game and carried the play for nearly the entire tilt. Chicago's top line was absolutely phenomenal during the game and soundly outplayed the Thornton line, giving Chicago a fortuitous head to head matchup they could rely on to both keep San Jose contained as well as generate chances of their own.

San Jose will head back home for a date against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. Considering the Sharks play as of late tonight's loss should be no cause for concern provided they can get back on track this week at HP Pavilion.