Sharks Bemoan Lack of Traffic in Loss
Instead, San Jose's shot total went way down on Tuesday night, and Chicago was the team with players positioned in the paint most of the night. The Blackhawks came away with a 4-2 victory over the Sharks, and the Blackhawks have sprinted out to a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals.
Three of the Blackhawks' goals came from in close, on tips and deflections and jams, first by Dustin Byfuglien in the second period, minutes later by Jonathan Toews (positioned right next to Byfuglien in front) and finally by Troy Brouwer redirecting a shot in the third period.
"They are a young, fast team," Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov said. "They are getting a lot of pucks deflected, we just have to do the same thing to them.
"Sometimes it's luck, but that's what happens when you put a lot of people in front of the net."
The Sharks couldn't mount the kind of sustained efforts necessary to send multiple players in front of the crease very often -- in part because of Chicago's extremely active sticks. The Blackhawks got in the way, disrupted the flow, hounded -- and the result was 20 giveaways by San Jose to just six for Chicago.
For most of the evening, the Blackhawks did appear to be much quicker. They skated faster, they reacted better, they seemed to be a step ahead. But Sharks coach Todd McLellan said that that was not the case for the first 10 minutes or so; he felt his team was pushing the action. That is, until the Blackhawks' first goal, a wrist shot by Andrew Ladd nearly 13 minutes in. That took the wind right out of the Sharks' sails.
"I thought we let our guard down a bit after the first goal and they took over for a while," McLellan said.
San Jose took 45 whacks at Niemi on Sunday and only 27 on Tuesday as the turnovers and the lack of bodies in front cut into chances.
"We're working hard," San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle said, "but not hard enough. As a man, we all have to look in the mirror and we'll all see our game has to be elevated. This is a good hockey team that has to be better. We're not scoring, we're not putting pucks on the net. ... Three goals in two games is not going to get it done against a team like that that can put in three, four, five in one night."
The Sharks did mix things up a bit, trying to find some way to get more shots, more goals. Dany Heatley bounced around lines in the third period, but he still had only two shots, total, after scoring 39 goals in the regular season. San Jose's second line, so pivotal in the first round and much of the conference semifinals, has yet to contribute. Patrick Marleau, often the focus of criticism, had both San Jose goals on Tuesday, and Boyle had two assists.
So far, however, Chicago looks like the better team. Not miles better, but enough. And the difference in quickness and energy levels at times seemed significant.
"It's interesting because early in the game, I thought we were quick," McLellan said. "We had some jump to loose pucks. We were playing the game that we wanted to play. It turned on us. That's happened two games in a row."
Chicago has now won seven consecutive road games in the playoffs, tying a record, and the Sharks must try to regroup themselves on the road. San Jose dropped the first two games at home in its only other Western Conference finals appearance, in 2004, before winning two in a row at Calgary. That was the last gasp for the Sharks, who fell in six games. They have never made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, and they won't unless they get some more people in Niemi's way.
"They had traffic," Sharks captain Rob Blake said. "We can take a page from that. Look at their goals. We've got to do that."