Dec 122011

By Brad Gardner

The Blackhawks salvaged two points from the reeling San Jose Sharks on Sunday evening at the United Center.

Starting goaltenders Ray Emery and Antti Niemi limited the scoring all night and it took a late push from Chicago to force the overtime. Patrick Sharp, skating in his first game since the birth of his first daughter on Friday, potted the overtime game-winner off a Niemi rebound to seal the comeback victory for the ‘Hawks.

Former Blackhawks’ netminder Niemi closed the door on a handful of high-quality chances from his former teammates in the opening period. Viktor Stalberg was robbed on the first shift of the game after he was set up by Jonathan Toews on the doorstep, but Niemi denied him with the pad. Not all of his saves were clean, but he extended his shut-out streak of the ‘Hawks to four periods going back to his November 23rd shutout.

At the other end of the rink, Ray Emery did his part in keeping his team in the game.

Although Chicago was able to kill off a pair of offensive zone penalties in the opening period, Jamie McGinn managed to get San Jose on the board first.  Niklas Hjalmarsson failed to clear the puck off the boards and it was eventually hacked to the front of the net by former-Blackhawk Michal Handzus. Emery was unable to control the puck and McGinn whacked it past the Chicago goalie on his third swing. Hjalmarsson was late in taking his man out of the play, giving McGinn enough hacks to get the puck across the line.

San Jose controlled play through the opening period, finishing the first with 17 shots on goal to Chicago’s eight.

Despite the disadvantage in chances, the Blackhawks were finally able to get one past Niemi midway through the second period. Hjalmarsson took a slap shot from the blue line, which redirected off the traffic in front of the San Jose crease and into the net. Marcus Kruger was credited with the redirect at 7:53 for his 3rd goal of the season.

The lead was short-lived, however, as Justin Braun scored his first of the season at 9:38 of the middle frame. Andrew Murray provided the screen in front of Emery, blocking his view of Braun’s wrist shot from the top of the circle.

The Sharks again had a major advantage in puck possession and chances during the second period, adding 16 more shots for a two-period total of 33. Emery continued to keep his team in the game despite the poor effort in front of him. The Blackhawks registered just five shots on Niemi in the second and totaled 13 shots heading into the third.

The tide turned in the third, as the ‘Hawks controlled the puck in their zone and more than doubled the shot count with 16 shots in the third. Despite the momentum and chances, Niemi continued to keep the puck out his net by taking away the low shots and coming up large on some of Chicago’s second and third chances.

It nearly took the ‘Hawks until the final minute of regulation before Andrew Brunette was able to tie the game at the 18:55 mark. Jonathan Toews won an offensive zone faceoff and the puck was cycled around the zone, eventually getting one-timed by Marian Hossa. Brunette was stationed right in front of Niemi and redirected Hossa’s shot into the back of the net.

Patrick Sharp finished the comeback at the 4:26 mark of the overtime. Hossa ripped another shot from nearly the exact same spot at the top of the circle and Niemi was again unable to control the puck. He kicked it closer to the goal line when he tried to stick his pad out and Sharp was in position to bury the game-winner.

Game Notes:

– Line-up notes – Sami Lepisto appeared in his second consecutive game following the eight game stretch he spent as a healthy scratch. Bryan Bickell was a healthy scratch for a fifth straight game. His replacement, Ben Smith, did not take a shift after Quenneville shortened his bench in the third period. Dan Carcillo and Michael Frolik also saw limited, if any, action in the third period. Smith finished with a game-low 5:48 of ice time.

– Emery might have earned himself another start this week, finishing the game with 35 saves on 37 shots. He was the reason the ‘Hawks were close at all through the first two periods and came up with a couple key saves later to allow for the comeback.

– Chicago’s string of four straight games with at least one power play goal ended with their 0 for 3 outing against the Sharks. The penalty kill had the two kills in the first and then had the rest of the night off.

– The Blackhawks won the hit count 34-28, led by Viktor Stalberg (6) and Nick Leddy (5) of all people.

– Three stars of the game… 3. Ray Emery, 2. Jamie McGinn, 1. Patrick Sharp

– Four of the five members of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction class were in attendance in advance of Monday’s ceremony, which will honor the playing careers of Chris Chelios, Gary Suter, and Keith Tkachuk as well as play-by-play announcer Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick. The fifth member of the class, Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider, was not with the group when they were acknowledged during the second period.

– The Blackhawks announced that March 25th will be Ed Belfour Heritage Night at the United Center. Belfour, whose career in Chicago lasted from 1988-97, was recently inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto alongside another former Blackhawk in Doug Gilmour.

– Next game is Wednesday on the road against the Minnesota Wild. The game will air on Versus at 6:30pm central.

Brad Gardner

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