CHICAGO -- So far, the Chicago Blackhawks have picked up the slack nicely for injured star forward Patrick Sharp and it's not just the remaining big guns who are responsible.
Sunday night's 4-3 win against the San Jose Sharks in front of 21,645 at the United Center was the latest example, as Chicago's top line centered by star captain Jonathan Toews was dominant and cleared the path for a trio of secondary scorers to remain red hot.
Dave Bolland, Viktor Stalberg and rookie Andrew Shaw each scored goals for the Hawks (27-13-6), while rookie Jimmy Hayes assisted on Bolland's goal to continue torrid stretches for each of them that began around the time Sharp got hurt Jan. 8 against the Detroit Red Wings.
"As a group, you try to fill the void," Stalberg said of Sharp's absence, which could last a few more weeks. "He's been one of our top guys all year and for the past couple years. The guys who came up from (the minors) are playing great. Shaw and Hayes are doing a great job filling those holes and we've got enough talent to score still, even without Sharpie. Tonight was a pretty full effort from us."
Bolland now has five goals in the past five games, Stalberg has five in the last four and 14 for the season, Hayes has three goals and two assists in nine games and Shaw – taken in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL Draft (No. 139) -- has scored four times in seven games since being called up.
"Coming into the NHL you don't expect to get four goals in seven games, so it's just a bonus," said Shaw, who was passed over in his first two draft-eligible years and lasted a long time in last June's draft. "I've always played a high-energy game, so the pace is a little bit faster – but I feel comfortable playing that way and also playing with better players. It's easier to play with them."
One of those "better players," is Toews, whose 24th goal gave the Hawks a 3-2 lead in the second period just five minutes after San Jose erased a 2-0 deficit by scoring twice within the first 2:08 of the period – just 26 seconds apart.
Joe Pavelski and Jamie McGinn scored those goals and the Sharks seemed to grab momentum until Toews tapped home a puck from the blue paint with former Hawks goalie Antti Niemi caught out of the net. Toews also assisted on Stalberg's goal in the first for his own two-point game to cap off a dominating performance by both he and his line – which had Stalberg on the left wing and Patrick Kane on the right.
They hogged and hounded the puck all game and were largely responsible for Chicago racking up 16 takeaways to San Jose's three. Asked what he saw out of Chicago's top forward group, Sharks coach Todd McLellan didn't mince words.
"Too much … how's that?" he said. "Their big boys had the puck the whole night."
As a result, the Sharks lost in regulation for the first time in January and just the third time in the past month.
"We're not overly-flattered with the 4-3 score," said McLellan, whose team was outshot 40-24 and needed a number of acrobatic saves by ex-Hawk Antti Niemi to stay in the game. "It could've easily been a lot worse. They're a tough enough group to play against when you're managing the puck properly, but … I don't know if the puck had a Blackhawks logo on it and we thought we had to give it back to them, but we certainly did for at least the first half of the game."
Niemi was the story for the first 18 minutes of the game.
After getting some help from the crossbar early in the first when Duncan Keith's shot beat him, Niemi reminded everyone during the next 12 minutes why he became so popular with fans and teammates during his short stay in the Windy City – one that culminated in the 2010 Stanley Cup.
He made a number of top-notch efforts to stymie Chicago scoring opportunities, but his diving glove save against Kane midway through the first was the best. After Toews put a fake on Niemi in the slot, he fired a pass to Kane in the right circle for a one-time slap shot that Niemi somehow snagged out of mid-air. Kane's body language and the smiling look of disbelief on his face afterward said it all.
"I thought I had the whole open net," said Kane, who had an assist but is frustrated by scoring just twice in the past 18 games. "Usually on that, a one-timer at the middle of the net goes in – but he made a great save on it. That was a nice one. I didn't know if I wanted to smile or cry afterward. It was a nice save … just more of the same, I guess."
Bolland and Stalberg finally got the best of Niemi in the last two minutes of the first period. Bolland gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead with a sharp-angled shot that went in with just 1:59 left in the period after a nice pass by Hayes from behind the net. Stalberg made it 2-0 with 21 seconds left before intermission by skating through the slot and tipping a perfect feed by Toews from the half wall into the net.
After Pavelski and McGinn scored on back-to-back shifts to get the Sharks even early in the second, the
Hawks dominated the rest of the period. Toews' goal that gave them the lead for good began with a rare dump-in by Kane into the San Jose zone. After Stalberg beat Niemi to the puck behind the net, Kane got the puck back and fired a pass toward the net – where Toews pushed it home.
Shaw scored the eventual game-winner and made it 4-2 early in the third by tapping home his own rebound off the rush before San Jose rookie Tommy Wingels scored his first career goal with 4:57 left in regulation to make things interesting down the stretch.
Corey Crawford (21 saves) made a couple nice saves of his own to preserve his 17th win. The win pushed the Hawks back up near the top of the Western Conference standings after getting three out of a possible four points in back-to-back games this weekend.
"We need to just focus on one game at a time and the task at hand, and not worry too much about [the standings]," Toews said. "If you're watching the standings all the time, it's one of those things that might get in your head a little bit. We finished off a good week and we've got to keep at it – and keep playing the way we have."
1 - 0 CHI
2 - 0 CHI
2 - 1 CHI
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 CHI
4 - 2 CHI
4 - 3 CHI
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