If you listen carefully in the depths of the United Center, you can vaguely hear the sound of a large woman warming up her octaves. She is not quite ready to burst out in song, but give her a few more days and she might be ready.
The cause of this anomaly you ask? Antti Niemi and Dustin Byfuglien my good friends. If you were to ask any hockey expert around the trade deadline they would have told you that Chicago is a team built for a Stanley Cup, but with their goal tending they probably wont make it. Now with the Finnish Fortress standing tall, and stopping almost everything in sight, the Chicago Blackhawks are one game away from a Stanley Cup Final berth.
Now on to hero of the day, Dustin Byfuglien. The man who stepped up his game and got into the heads of the Vancouver Canucks, has put the dagger into the heart of the San Jose Sharks in two of the three games. In Game 1, Byfuglien found himself alone in the middle of the zone and fired the game winning goal through Evgeni Nabokov’s legs. In Game 3, Byfuglien once again found himself in the middle of the ice, and this time he caught Nabokov off guard and scored the game winning goal in overtime.
San Jose looked to take the energy out of the rowdy United Center crowd tonight, putting the pressure on the Hawks and Antti Niemi. The Sharks efforts almost payed off late in the first, when it looked like Joe Pavaleski scored the games first goal. Upon further review the on ice officials, and the officials in the booth declared it a no goal due to Pavaleski using a distinct kicking motion to score.
The games first official goal would come 3 minutes into the 2nd period when Patrick Marleau struck on a 5-on-3 power-play situation. Chicago Center David Bolland was just about to be released from the box, but could not get on the ice fast enough to make a difference. The Sharks would only carry the lead for 3 minutes, as Chicago would strike for one of their own power-play goals. Sharp found himself open off to Evgeni Nabakov’s right, and Johnathan Toews found him on a beautiful cross ice pass to tie the game up.
With the game being tied 1-1, the San Jose Sharks came out in the third period with a furious energy. That energy would be short lived though, as the Chicago Blackhawks had something brewing. With David Bolland in the penalty box after taking a tripping call, goaltender Antti Niemi would rise to the occasion and stop numerous Shark opportunities. After serving his two minutes, Bolland found himself in the spotlight, as he found himself on a breakaway with only Nabakov to beat. Bolland would fake the back hand, and swing back around to beat Nabakov to the left to deposit the go ahead goal.
Almost seems like Deja vu right? Hawks take a 2-1 lead late in the third and hold on to the victory? As Lee Corso would say…”Not so fast my friend.” If there has been one Shark who has left the Hawk’s confused it would be Patrick Marlaeu. Marleau had scored the last three Shark goals up to this point, and he would strike for his fourth. Trailing 2-1, Danny Heatley skated towards the middle and let one rip towards Niemi, who did his best to knock it down. But on this occasion his best wasn’t enough as Marleau would be there to once again clean up the lose puck tying it up 2-2.
If there is one thing every sport fan should witness it is a overtime game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Every shot could be the one that sends your team home with the taste of victory, or with the agony of defeat. After a quiet start to the overtime period the Sharks started opening the ice and peppering Niemi with shots. After weathering the storm Chicago would make thier push, with Patrick Kane skating up ice and testing Nabakov with a wrister, which was fought off. Chicago would set up the cycle game along the boards behind Nabokov. With the Sharks defenders fighting for the puck, Dustin Byfuglien skated towards the middle of the ice and waiting for his opportunity..he wouldnt wait long. David Bolland fought hard for the puck a delivered a perfect pass to Byfuglien, who would in turn deposit it into the net for the game winner. What a way to win it.
Niemi_No_No’s Good, Bad and Ugly:
The Good: Antti Niemi. The rookie goaltender has arguably outplayed every other goaltender in the playoffs, and he did not disappoint today, stopping 44 of the 46 shots he faced.
The Bad: The Blackhawk’s defensive pressure. In Game 1 the team allowed the Sharks to skate freely into the zone, and it resulted in Antti Niemi being tested time after time. In Game 2 it seemed like the team had finally figured out the Sharks and kept the chances to a minimum. Game 3 was alot like Game 1 in almost every aspect, and once again Niemi had to stand on his head to keep it close.
The Ugly: Penalties..Penalties…Penalties. Two Hooking calls, two tripping calls, one goalkeeper interference and a holding call in a pear tree. Just like the defensive pressure, the Blackhawks took a few dumb penalties in this game, and it almost cost them the game.
Look for my Game 4 Preview tomorrow in preparation for Tuesdays game. Remember folks this is Antti Niemi’s world, we are just living in it.