The start of a new Stanley Cup playoffs series is always entertaining. Getting to see a new opponent after, typically, about two weeks of only seeing one other team is refreshing for fans and players. But Game 1s can often be feeling-out affairs where teams don’t want to make mistakes and drop the all-important opener.
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The first game of the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 series against the San Jose Sharks was not like that. The teams combined for 86 shots on net, and goaltenders Antti Niemi and Evgeni Nabakov had to stand on their heads to keep their respective teams in it.
That sets the stage for the next game on our countdown of top Blackhawks playoff wins under coach Joel Quenneville.
Note: Check out the previous entries in this series at the end of this post.
No. 56: 2010 Western Conference finals, Game 1
Chicago Blackhawks 2, San Jose Sharks 1
I have a confession to make regarding the Sha-arks. Though I despise that their fans don’t know “Sharks” is a one-syllable word, or just refuse to accept it, I really do enjoy one aspect of San Jose’s home venue. Their goal horn and song are probably my second-favorite in the league, behind the Blackhawks’ combo and just ahead of Columbus’. The Shark Tank’s super deep horn and slightly altered version of the “dun dun dun dun HEYYYYY” chant/song is very entertaining to me, though I can’t explain why.
Still, I’m glad we only had to hear it once in this game, which saw the West’s top two seeds square off in what many expected to be a long and entertaining series. We got half of that, and the entertainment started early in this game and series.
Unfortunately, it went the wrong way at the start. The Sharks received one of their five powerplays midway through the first period on a Dustin Byfuglien interference penalty (he probably did something Andrew Shaw-like). Patrick Marleau did a nice job keeping the puck in at the blue line and lofted a backhander to Jason Demers well above the circle to Niemi’s left. Demers launched a shot that simply beat Niemi right over the latter’s right shoulder, and though it would be San Jose’s only tally of the night, it gave the Sharks an early 1-0 advantage.
A word about the penalties in this game, which make the affair slightly more memorable. As was said before, the Sharks had five powerplays. In a rare show of lopsidedness by the referees, the Blackhawks received zero powerplays. Refs typically force a couple penalties in a situation like that to make the game “more fair.” But, apparently, there was nothing the refs could find to ding San Jose that night. It ultimately didn’t matter, but it’s just another show of the resiliency that has come to define the Blackhawks under Q.
Da Windy City
Dany Heatly had a fantastic bid between the circles with about four minutes left in the opening period, taking a pass on Niemi’s doorstep and wiring one toward the net. But as would happen a lot in this game, Niemi said no.
Jonathan Toews would respond with a fantastic bid of his own about two minutes later, standing to Nabakov’s right ready to hammer home any rebound chances. Instead, Marian Hossa found Toews with a nasty backhander through multiple Sharks defenders. Toews spun around while Nabakov flailed, trying to predict where the captain would shoot it. The answer to that, it turned out, would be at one of the posts, keeping Chicago scoreless.
Marleau would have the next nice chance early in the second period, slapping a one-timer from right above the circle to Niemi’s right that the goaltender flew across the net and nabbed with a glove. He made it look easy, as he did with many saves in this playoff run. We should still be glad the Blackhawks didn’t decide to pay him in the offseason.
The Blackhawks needed just one good opportunity to tie things up. Hossa started the goal-scoring rush, firing a puck off the boards to Troy Brouwer, who skated it up to center ice and hit Duncan Keith with a pass. Keith crossed over the blue line and fed a trailing Patrick Sharp. From pretty far out, Sharp wristed a puck at Nabakov, and it found the twine for a goal Nabakov would likely want to have back. Regardless, the game was tied at 1 about eight minutes into the second period.
About two minutes later, Byfuglien pretended he was Patrick Kane for a play and diced through three San Jose defenders for a short-side attempt on Nabokov, which was batted away.
Niemi had more “no’s” to give out in this one, too. One of his best came with about four minutes left in the second, with the Sharks on a powerplay and the Blackhawks struggling to clear the puck. Demers would fire a shot-pass from near the blue line, finding Ryan Clowe at Niemi’s immediate left. Niemi was woefully out of position, but Niemi somehow sprawled across the goalmouth and knocked away Clowe’s backhand bid with his glove, keeping the game knotted at 1.
Between that chance and the next — and last — goal of the game, Niklas Hjalmarsson proved why the Blackhawks were smart to match San Jose’s offer sheet for the defenseman after these playoffs. He made multiple plays alongside Niemi after the goaltender had stopped a shot but lost track of the rebound. Hjalmarsson boxed out opposing forwards and swept the puck of the goal line in a few different situations to keep Niemi and the Blackhawks in this one.
And then NBC was nice enough to put a spotlight on the guy who’d create Chicago’s second goal. The crew was talking about Kane ahead of an offensive-zone faceoff, which was won by Toews. The puck then went to Kane, who found Byfuglien in the middle of the ice. The big forward/defenseman wound up on a slapper and beat Nabakov, giving the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with about 6:30 to go.
Both teams kept attacking after the strike, and the Blackhawks needed to overcome a penalty by Kris Versteeg with less than a minute to go, creating a 6-on-4 for San Jose. But overcome it they did, and Chicago walked out of the Shark Tank with a 1-0 edge in the series.
There was a funny moment toward the end of the above highlight package as well. The Blackhawks clear the puck with about 30 seconds to go, and one Chicago player reaches off the bench pretending the push the puck further down the ice. Thank goodness he didn’t actually touch it; a 6-on-3 probably would’ve caused Chicago hospitals to fill up pretty quick.
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