Even though they hadn’t met the San Jose Sharks since January 31, that game's 4-2 victory undoubtedly left an impression on the young Blackhawks team. They parlayed that recently-acquired knowledge into a second victory Wednesday night, defeating the West’s second-best team 6-5 in a shootout.
“Those [earlier] games helped in terms of how we play at the end of the game and protect leads,” said Andrew Ladd. “Obviously, [Nikolai Khabibulin] bailed us out tonight by making some big saves and Jonny [Toews] and [Patrick Kane
] helped us out in the shooutout. We’ve been learning this whole year about our team, and it’s going to be helpful moving forward.”
Part of the learning process for the youthful Hawks is understanding how to take back the momentum after a quick goal by an opponent and learning how not to get discouraged when a big lead disappears. At one time, the Blackhawks led the Sharks 4-1 and had the momentum shifting in their favor, but as time wound down in regulation and went into overtime, the team worked hard to preserve the 5-5 tie.
“We had a great start tonight,” head coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had a lot of good things happen for us tonight, discounting the late goals against us. We had speed, we had energy and got production early on. When we got that 4-1 lead, it looked like we were on our way.”
The Hawks’ education continued in overtime, where the team has struggled this season while compiling a 7-11 record heading into tonight’s extra period.
“Overtime hasn’t been that great for us all year,” said Quenneville, “But tonight it was just the opposite. It was a huge win at the end of the day, but we’ve got to be a little more comfortable with a two-goal lead and five minutes to go.”
Perhaps the most important part of the Hawks’ learning was the continuing re-education of Khabibulin, who appeared for just the fourth time since returning from an injury made him inactive for almost a month. The netminder made critical saves against a very skilled San Jose team, and as he progresses to his top form, the Hawks’ chances in every game will steadily improve.
“Offensively, they’ve got a lot of weapons,” Quenneville said. “I think [Khabibulin] did some good things. We’ll continue to get better as he improves. I think we’ll be fine.”
Ultimately, the Hawks can look back positively at their season series with the Sharks, winning five points out of a possible eight against one of the best teams in the league.
“They’ve got a lot of things going,” said Quenneville. “We’ve had four thrillers and when you’re measured against a top team, it’s fun to be a part of.”