Jan 152012
photo: NHL.com

By Brad Gardner

The Blackhawks got the better of Antti Niemi in their third game against the team’s former goalie, this time earning two points in regulation by holding onto a 4-3 lead against a late barrage from the Sharks. The home team held fast against a late two-man advantage, giving rookie Andrew Shaw the game-winner with his third-period tally.

The ‘Hawks struck first on a sharp-angle shot by Dave Bolland. The play began with Andrew Brunette controlling the puck behind the net. He passed to Jimmy Hayes one way, who quickly sent it back the other way to Bolland. He was able to elevate it over Niemi’s should as he tried to get to the post for the first goal of the game.

Viktor Stalberg cashed in about a minute and a half later on a slick set-up from Jonathan Toews. The captain kept control of the puck below the goal line and turned up the end boards before sending a strike to the tape of Stalberg. The winger had an easy finish before Niemi could move over, extending Chicago’s lead to 2-0 heading into the first intermission.

The Toews line opened the second with another strong shift, but San Jose was able to answer with a redirect at the 1:42 mark of the period. Marc-Eduard Vlasic sent the shot from the blue line and it was deflected past Corey Crawford by Joe Pavelski to cut the lead in the half.

Jamie McGinn tied the game 26 seconds later, the San Jose forecheck keeping the puck low and McGinn carrying the puck unimpeded to the front of the net. He slid the puck between the legs of Crawford to make it a 2-2 game and prompting Joel Quenneville to use his timeout.

The tie was broken by more pressure from the Toews line, as the speed of Stalberg and Kane on the forecheck set up an easy conversion for Toews in the crease. Niemi tried to play the puck up the boards as Stalberg skated in deep, but Kane was there to keep the pass from getting far. Kane sent a pass right to the front of the net and Toews tapped it in before Niemi could recover.

The Shawz-all scored an insurance goal in the final frame by crashing the front of the net. Duncan Keith sent a long stretch pass to Marian Hossa, who entered the zone and dropped to Marcus Kruger. Niemi’s glove coughed up the initial chance from Kruger, giving Shaw a good look on the rebound. The puck slid along the goal line behind Niemi until Shaw got his stick on it again to make it a 4-2 lead early in the third.

Evanston, Illinois-native Tommy Wingels scored his first career NHL goal later in the period to pull the Sharks back within a goal. The chance started from Dan Boyle’s shot from the blue line. Crawford was unable to control the rebound off Torrey Mitchell’s redirect and Wingels slammed it into the open net with just under five minutes left in the game.

Stalberg appeared to get the goal right back, but the initial call on the ice was ‘no-goal’ due to a kick. He clearly kicked the puck with his right skate back towards the front of the net, but it was hard to tell whether he got a piece of it with his stick or if it just deflected off of Niemi and into the net. There was not enough on the replay to overturn the call on the ice, so ‘Hawks lead remained at one goal.

The ‘Hawks held up well but were faced with another challenge when Niklas Hjalmarsson went off for a hooking penalty with 67 seconds remaining in regulation. Sharks coach Todd McLellan pulled his goalie right away, giving San Jose a 6-on-4 advantage for the remainder of the game. A couple shots were tipped wide and Crawford made a couple big saves against the San Jose traffic, but the home team still managed to hold on for the 4-3 victory.

Game Notes:

– The victory gives the Blackhawks (27-13-6) their 59th and 60th standing points of the season.  They are just the second team behind the New York Rangers to reach 60 points this season.  The Rangers (28-11-4) did so in four fewer games.  And thus with Sunday’s win the Blackhawks now sit atop the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Canucks (28-15-3, 59pts), who lost at home Sunday, 4-2 to the recently-good again Anaheim Ducks.  Behind Chicago in the Central Division are the St. Louis Blues (26-12-6, 58pts) and Detroit Red Wings (28-15-1, 57pts), who each have two games in hand on the Hawks.

Sean O’Donnell‘s fight against Brad Winchester was his first as a ‘Hawk. The defenseman was a half-step late in cutting off Winchester’s wrap-around attempt, which was saved by Crawford. Winchester took a couple extra swipes at the puck, which was drew the attention of O’Donnell and eventually led to the fight. Both skaters landed some shots with Winchester hitting the ice first.

Andrew Shaw was named the third star of the game for what turned out to be the game-winning goal. It was the rookie’s fourth goal of the season in seven games, scored again by skating to the front of the net.

– Viktor Stalberg, 2nd start, and Jonathan Toews, 1st star, each came away with a goal and an assist. The ‘Hawks top line applied pressure all night, even the snake-bitten Patrick Kane got a couple of prime opportunities against Niemi. Toews scored his 24th goal of the season, which has him tied for second in the league behind Steven Stamkos’ league-leading 30 goals.

– Crawford made his second start in as many games after a strong game Saturday afternoon in Detroit. He looked sharp again early and wasn’t given much of a chance against the long shots and redirects in front of his net. The McGinn goal was one that Crawford normally handles easily, but his offensive picked him up after that one.

– Chicago came away with a huge advantage in shots attempted and thus scoring chances. As a team, the Blackhawks got 40 shots on net, had 16 attempts blocked, and sent 16 attempts wide of the net. San Jose got 24 shots on goal and attempted only 10 others in all.

–  The penalty kill came up big again tonight for the ‘Hawks, particularly against the 6-on-4 in the final minute. That unit killed all three opportunities for the San Jose power play. The ‘Hawks power play had an abbreviated opportunity that was not converted after Michal Handzus was called for boarding Niklas Hjalmarsson.

– The Blackhawks host the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday night at 6:30pm central time on NBC Sports.

Brad Gardner

In addition to covering the Blackhawks for TheThirdManIn.com, Brad is also the Blackhawks correspondent at HockeysFuture.com.

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