Blackhawks Start California Swing Off With 2-1 Loss to Sharks

Pavelski and Saad score goals in regulation, but Hawks lose 5th game in 6 tries

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 The Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks put on quite the show on Saturday night, but it was the Sharks who ended up grabbing the extra point in the standings as they used three shootout goals to down the Hawks 2-1 at SAP Center.

Brandon Saad scored the lone goal of the game for the Blackhawks, and Corey Crawford made 38 saves as a tough-luck loser. Joe Pavelski scored San Jose’s lone goal, and then added another tally in the shootout. Former Blackhawk Antti Niemi stopped 29 Chicago shots, and then stopped a Patrick Sharp shootout attempt to help his team to victory.

The game started out on the slow side as both teams tried to prod for weaknesses in the opposing defense. The first good chance of the game came toward the halfway point of the first period when he uncorked a wicked wrist shot from near the point. The puck hit traffic in front and ended up pinging off the post to keep the game scoreless. Marcus Kruger followed that play up a few shifts later with a nice rush of his own, but Niemi was able to knock the puck down, and then stoned Ben Smith on a rebound chance later in the sequence.

Just after the Smith and Kruger chances, the Sharks finally registered their first quality chance. Dan Boyle pinched in from the blue line on a play deep in the zone, and his slap shot beat Crawford, but it ricocheted off the cross bar and into the protective netting behind the goal.

Both teams got power play opportunities in the later stages of the period, but neither squad could convert. The Hawks looked positively lost on their man-advantage, but the Sharks were able to get a few good looks at the net. Joe Thornton made the best move out of anybody, getting a point blank redirection toward the net, but Crawford was able to maintain good position in the crease, and he kept the puck out of the net to send the game to the first intermission with the score 0-0.

After the Blackhawks finished killing off the penalty in the opening minute of the second period, they did their traditional load-up and nearly took the lead. Kane hammered away at a puck in the crease, and Jonathan Toews also got involved in the fracas, but somehow Niemi was able to locate the puck and covered it up in the maelstrom.

The Blackhawks got another power play less than five minutes into the frame, but were unable to convert again as they continued to have difficulty entering the offensive zone. They returned the favor to the Sharks with a too many men penalty with about 11 minutes remaining in the period, but thanks to some more deft work by Crawford on a couple of in-tight chances, the game still remained scoreless.

On their third power play of the evening, the Blackhawks still couldn’t quite get things working in their favor. Crawford had to make two saves in a row during that sequence, with one coming off a Sharks shot from the slot, and the other when Duncan Keith accidentally redirected the rebound back at the Hawks’ net, but Crawford was able to stop it to allow his team to head the other way.

Early in the third period, the Sharks came out firing. After making a blocker save at the top of his crease, Crawford had to make another sprawling stop as Brent Burns came in with a hard wrist shot. Niklas Hjalmarsson then went to the box on a hooking penalty alongside the net, and the Sharks headed to their third power play of the game.

Once again though, it was Crawford who stood tall. After a nice set-up by Patrick Marleau as he skated around the zone, Burns got another great opportunity at a redirect, but he just missed the net. Finally, Matt Nieto got a look at the net, but Crawford was quick to smother the shot to prevent a doorstep rebound with Thornton lurking.

Within a minute of the Blackhawks’ killing the Hjalmarsson penalty, they found themselves on the power play again Unfortunately for them, it was the Sharks who were able to get on the board first. After a bad turnover in the neutral zone, the puck eventually found its way into Hawks territory. There, it was Pavelski who won a positioning battle with Keith, and his quick wrister found its way over Crawford’s shoulder and into the net, giving San Jose a 1-0 lead about six minutes into the period.

Just a minute later though, excellent puck movement by the Blackhawks tied the game back up. After a stellar keep-in at the point by Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa one-touch passed the puck to Kris Versteeg alongside the net. Just like he did against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, Versteeg feathered a perfect pass to Saad, who hit a bit of a knuckler on his one-timer, but it was enough to fool Niemi, and the Hawks tied the game at 1-1.

Both sides traded some great chances for the remainder of the game, with one sequence in particular standing out. James Sheppard got the puck alongside the Hawks net, and his feed to Brad Stuart was on target. Stuart wasn’t able to pound home the shot though, because Crawford was in perfect position, and he made a left pad stop. On the next Hawks’ possession, it was Michal Rozsival’s turn to get robbed by the post, as his shot beat Niemi but skipped harmlessly off the red iron.

Late in regulation, the Sharks got another power play as Sharp headed to the box for high-sticking. Once again though, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill stood tall, with Crawford making a key poke check and Hossa and Toews teaming up to strip the puck from Pavelski at the point to keep the game tied up and headed to overtime.

In the extra frame, there were a few good opportunities both ways, but both Niemi and Crawford were once again in top form, and for the 19th time in 19 tries this season, the Blackhawks went into overtime and were unable to score a goal.

While the other 65 minutes of the game was a taut back-and-forth affair, the shootout was all Sharks. Pavelski got things started out by slamming on the brakes in front of the net in a Kane-esque move, and then deked the puck past Crawford to put San Jose up 1-0. After Toews tied it at 1-1 with a great goal at the other end, Marleau was able to jam a puck in between Crawford’s leg pads to give the Sharks a 2-1 edge.

After Sharp’s wrist shot attempt was easily stopped by Niemi’s glove, Thornton pulled off the coup de grace. He too slowed down as he approached the net, and made an excellent dragging deke across the crease, sneaking the puck past Crawford’s left pad to send the Blackhawks to their fifth defeat in six games.

The Hawks will stay in California for their next contest, as they prepare to battle the Kings in the City of Angels on Monday night.

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