Sharks avoid another collapse, beat Chicago 5-3

23 seconds.

It took 23 seconds to go from cautious optimism about the game – the Sharks were going to enter the third period with a two goal lead, something that they’ve only blown twice this year – to head-in-your-hands, why do they keep doing this? despair. In the final 23 seconds of the second period, the Blackhawks scored two goals to tie the game at 3. And while not quite the familiar third period collapse the Sharks have had four times this season already, it was enough for Sharks fans to think, "Here we go again."

Yet this momentary collapse was different – there was an intermission directly following the tying goal by ex-Shark Brian Campbell, allowing the Sharks to regain their wits. Antti Niemi was allowed time to shake off those two weak goals and get ready for the third.

The Sharks did not come out strong to start the third – they were playing on their heels, trying to protect a nonexistent lead. But then Sharks captain Joe Thornton tipped in a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot from the point with left in the third, and the demeanor changed. The Sharks played aggressively, generating chances and preventing the Blackhawks from getting the same. Niemi stood tall in his crease, making 10 saves in the final frame. And Ryane Clowe sealed the victory, scoring an empty-netter from center ice to make the final score 5-3.

As noted by idunno723 in the comments, Chicago’s top pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook – one of, if not the top defensive pairing in the NHLwas assigned to the Clowe-Couture-Ferriero line. There was only one shift by that line that didn’t see either Keith or Seabrook, and that shift resulted in the Benn Ferriero goal. It’s a testament to the dominance of Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe that Joel Quenneville chose to put his top defensive pair against those two, rather than the well-established trio of Marleau, Thornton, and Heatley.

The Sharks were on a seven game streak without Chicago scoring a power play goal in the regular season. That ended tonight, with the Blackhawks scoring two of their three goals with the man advantage. One of those goals came on a particularly iffy penalty, a call on Jamie McGinn for tripping Patrick Kane. It looked like the two simply ran into each other with Kane falling down. The goal scored on that penalty was the first of the two aforementioned quick goals.

On the subject of penalties, Nick Boyton likely should have gotten more than he did when being called for slashing Tommy Wingels. He shot the puck at Wingels’s back after the whistle was blown for his original penalty, grounds for a 10 minute misconduct. Benn Ferriero scored during the resulting power play from the slash, fulfilling the best form of karma in a hockey game, but it was still a cheap play that deserved more punishment than it got.

Nichol’s goal was a not particularly hard shot on net as he entered the zone – a routine save for most goalies. However, Marty Turco is not most goalies. Somehow, the puck squirted through Marty Turco and into the goal, tying the game at 1.

Ferriero’s goal saw Boyle hang on to the puck, sneaking up through the zone as his mimed shooting the puck, before passing it to Couture. Logan Couture had a beautiful pass through the crease and between Nicklas Hjalmarsson’s legs to Benn Ferriero, who buried it top shelf. The goal came on an extended 5-on-3, meaning a momentum shift either way; Sharks score, and they get a lead. Blackhawks kill it, and they get a boost.

The third Sharks goal was a classic Heatley goal – Demers shot it on Turco’s pads, the puck popped out in front of the net right where Heatley was parked, and Heatley smacked it into the goal.

Two funny notes: Joe Pavelski, still in San Jose with an injury, took part in the CSN California pool via phone interview. He picked Antti Niemi as his player of the game, or Scott Nichol as his backup if goalies weren’t allowed. Both played well tonight, with Niemi notching his third win this year against his former club and Nichol scoring his fourth goal. Not only is Pavelski clutch, but he’s also a Nostradamus of sorts. Also, in the third, Douglas Murray looked to be channeling his line from his recent commercial: "I will break you." He was determined to hit everything and anything on the ice, including an unfortunate Scott Nichol.

The Sharks have officially won the season series with the Chicago Blackhawks no matter what happens in the final game between the two on March 14, winning all three games the two clubs have played thus far. As CSN California reporter Brodie Brazil said on the post-game, "All I have to say to Vince Vaughn, big Blackhawks fan: EAT IT!"

What a way to end the year. Go Sharks.