CHICAGO -- All it took was one blown coverage to turn a close series into a potential four-game sweep.
In a defensively-tight game for 72 minutes, Chicago's clutch forward Dustin Byfuglien's ability to find daylight and score at 12:24 of overtime gave the Blackhawks a 3-2 win and 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference final.
Considering an NHL team comes back from 3-0 only once every 35 years or so, the Sharks are going to have nightmares all summer about leaving Byfuglien in front of the net for Dave Bolland's pass from Wayne Gretzky's office.
"The guy behind the net is not dangerous," San Jose head coach Todd McLellan said after the game. "The player in front of the net is. We had a breakdown in our D-zone coverage. Byfuglien got lost high. It's not a play where you blame one individual. Chicago made a great play to keep the puck in our zone."
Bolland, the Blackhawks' pest credited for slowing down the Sharks' top offensive players in the first two games in San Jose, scored a breakaway goal with just under seven minutes left to give Chicago a 2-1 lead. However, with more than 22,000 fans at the United Center warming up for a celebration, Patrick Marleau scored his second with 4:23 left to tie the game.
"I thought I may have had the game-winner," said Bolland, "but I guess it just wasn't meant to be. We went to overtime and we went back to work."
Bolland had a pair of Sharks around him when he made the defining pass of the series.
"I was behind the net and heard Buff yell something," he said. "I turned around and slid the puck in front. When he scored and the crowd went nuts ... what a rush."
Said Byfuglien, "Bolland just laid it out in the slot perfectly for me. All I had to do was finish. It's something that I'll definitely remember."
So will the Sharks. The Blackhawks could be accused of stealing this win that puts them one away from the Stanley Cup Finals -- Game 4 is Sunday afternoon at the United Center -- and they know it.
"This was a very close game, could have gone either way," said Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith. "We just happened to get the bounce. We're going to have to play a lot better in all areas if we're going to close this series out."
The Blackhawks handed the Sharks six power plays, three on minor penalties by Bolland. San Jose only capitalized on one. The Sharks out-shot the Blackhawks 18-6 in the third period, 46-38 for the game. If it wasn't for goalie Antti Niemi, an emerging hero for the home team, Joel Quenneville's team would not have made it to overtime.
"Antti made every big stop for us over four periods," said Blackhawks wing Kris Versteeg. "We relied on him too much tonight, but his great play is becoming kind of typical."
"I can't walk into our dressing room tomorrow and say they didn't give everything they had," McLellan said of his players. "We have to re-group and come back with the same kind of effort. I was real happy with our play tonight. We have been in this series for every minute."
Poor play for a few seconds has San Jose on the brink.