Coming into the Western Conference Finals two things were known for sure. The San Jose Sharks were playing outstanding hockey at the HP Pavilion Center. The other known fact was the Chicago Blackhawks were playing outstanding hockey away from the United Center. In Game 1 we saw both of these facts come to life, with both teams playing arguably the best hockey so far in the playoffs. Would Game 2 live up the the expectation of Game 1?
In a word…No
Well lets clarify. One team lived up the hype, the other left its fan base scratching their head asking why. The Chicago Blackhawks looked like the team everyone picked to win Lord Stanley’s cup this year. Where as the Sharks looked like the team everyone has come to know in playoffs past.
The Blackhawks would set the pace early when Andrew Ladd shot a wrister just over Evgeni Nabakov’s glove side from 30 feet out. The Hawks would then implement something that they were lacking in Game 1, and that is Net Presence. The Hawks planted Dustin Byfuglien and Jonathan Toews in front of Nabakov’s crease and peppered him with shots from the point. It was only a matter of time before one of those shots was redirected past Nabakov and it came off the stick on Byfuglien. 90 seconds later Toews would strike from Nabakov’s blue pain, deflection a Duncan Keith shot from the perimeter off the post and in. Troy Brouwer would tip another goal in the third period to seal San Jose’s fate. Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marian Hossa were the stars of the goal, with Hossa winning a key board battle and finding Hjalmarsson near the blue line. Hjalmarsson was originally credited with the goal, but it was later given to Brouwer .
Although the Hawks did alot of things good, they also made a few mistakes. In my Game 1 Preview, I talked about the Sharks setting up camp off to Niemi’s side and just missing on opportunities. Well in Game 2, Patrick Marleau did not miss on his early opportunity when he deposited the puck top shelf for a 2nd period power play goal. It was a beautifully designed play by the Sharks, with Marleau starting the play near the point, then after passing it cycled over to Niemi’s left where Joe Thronton delivered an excellent pass to set up the goal.
The next Shark goal was just a product of hard nosed net presence. With a delayed penalty coming, Dan Boyle fired a shot towards the net, Antti Niemi did what he does best and stopped it, but the puck came loose and Danny Heatley fired another shot at Niemi, this time the puck fell of the his right. Duncan Keith did all he could to prevent Marleau from striking again, but Marleau out muscled him and tapped it in.
In my preview I stated 3 things that I thought the Hawks would need to do to come away with a victory.
Keep the pressure off of Niemi. Make the Sharks earn their shots.
For the most part the Hawks did a very good job keep the shots limited. In Game 1 Antti Niemi saw 45 shots on goal, and in Game 2 he saw only 27.
Net presence. Put bodies in front of Nabakov.
This was the biggest difference from Game 1 to Game 2. The Hawks had Byfuglien doing what he does best, and that is causing havoc for the opposing netminder. 3 of the 4 Hawk goals came from deflections, all because of a constant presence around the net.
Wear the Sharks out. Use the speed and youth to keep the pressure on San Jose for 60 minutes.
I think this key will be seen as the series progresses. It will be interesting to see if the Sharks can grind it out in game 4-7, against the youthful Hawks.
Id like to finish off this article with my own variation of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, that you see in alot of articles now a days.
The Good: Dave Bolland. Since the 3rd game of the Vancouver series he has been a thorn in the side of the opposing teams. As you will see in The Ugly, he is already under Joe Tornton’s skin.
The Bad: Evgeni Nabakov. In Game 1, he let in two really soft goals, and in Game 1 he let in another. On Andrew Ladd’s wrist shot, he had clear sight of the puck, yet could not bring it in.
The Ugly: Joe Thornton’s slash on Dave Bolland. Late in the Third Period on a offensive zone draw, Joe Thornton gave Dave Bolland a vicious slash right before the referee dropped the puck. Bolland would be alright, but it just shows how much he has gotten under the Thornton’s skin.
Look for my Game 3 Preview in the next couple of days, as I look at why the Hawks have played so poorly at the United Center in this year’s playoff’s.