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Blackhawks snap home skid by beating Sharks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The sting of defeat was still fresh in the minds of the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday at United Center.

They were determined not to fumble away a big lead for a second straight game. They stayed focused on snapping a three-game home losing skid. They didn't melt after a shaky second period and closed out the resilient San Jose Sharks for a 5-2 victory, the Blackhawks' first at home since Oct. 26 against the Ottawa Senators.

Unlike a 3-2 loss Friday to the Washington Capitals, a stunning defeat that featured a blown 2-0 lead, this one ended the way Chicago has come to expect: Goals late in the third, by left wing Bryan Bickell and captain Jonathan Toews into an empty net, sealed the win and prevented another deflating collapse.

"You can see where the confidence in tight games and playing the right way and doing the right things is a work in progress right now." Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think [there was] probably a little hesitation on our part, knowing we've lost some tough games that we traditionally win."

Amid a turbulent start to the season, the goals by Bickell and Toews eased those nervous feelings. They were a welcome relief for the Blackhawks (8-6-1), who took a 3-0 lead in the first on goals by three defenseman: Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and rookie Trevor van Riemsdyk, whose first NHL goal opened the scoring.

The Sharks pulled within 3-2 on goals by forward Joe Pavelski, but it wasn't enough.

"Finding the right things and being comfortable and making right decisions is what we're working through," Quenneville said. "We've got to nail that. It's got to be one of our strengths."

Goaltender Corey Crawford is one of their strengths; he made 32 saves to earn his fifth win. Former Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi (32 saves) took the loss for the Sharks (8-6-2), who played their second game in a 24-hour window and looked like it at the start. Falling behind 3-0 wasn't exactly part of coach Todd McLellan's game plan.

"I saw a team that wasn't prepared to compete, lacked catalysts, guys that were going to settle the game down and make us play the right way, and as a result we're down by three [quickly]," McLellan said. "I don't know if they were more hungry. They certainly were more committed to their game than we were in the first."

San Jose flew to Chicago after a 5-3 road win Saturday against the Dallas Stars in which the Sharks scored four goals in the third to overcome a 3-1 lead. They nearly overcame a 3-0 deficit in a furious second period against Chicago, but Crawford came up with big saves and the Blackhawks regrouped during the second intermission.

With the memory of what happened against the Capitals still fresh, the Blackhawks made sure San Jose didn't follow suit. They also made sure their strong first 20 minutes wasn't wasted. Chicago dominated the first period, scoring three goals in a 2:34 span midway through the period, and held a 3-1 lead to start the second.

Van Riemsdyk scored at 12:00 to put Chicago up 1-0. Following a clean faceoff win by Toews, the puck slid above the right circle for the rookie defenseman, who stepped into a slap shot that sailed through traffic and beat Niemi on the short side.

The goal could possibly go to left wing Kris Versteeg upon review by the League, but van Riemsdyk cared only about the lift it provided. Either way, he earned his first NHL point.

"I heard it hit something before it went in the back of the net, so I wasn't sure what it was," van Riemsdyk said. "I was just happy that if it went in, I'd have an assist on it just to break those zeroes I had across the board before it."

Seabrook, who shouldered much of the blame for the blown lead against Washington, made it 2-0 at 14:10 with his third goal. Using two Sharks as a screen, he scored on a shot from the right point that Niemi didn't see in time. Hjalmarsson gave Chicago a three-goal lead 24 seconds later with a wrist shot from the slot for his first goal of the season.

Pavelski quickly responded with his first of the game, making it 3-1 at 15:32 by tipping Justin Braun's long shot from the right point past Crawford.

That was one of the few early highlights for the Sharks, who trailed 20-9 in shots after the first. However, a big second nearly brought them all the way back; they got Pavelski's second of the game on a power play to make it 3-2 and outshot Chicago 13-6.

That was as close as San Jose got.

"It's not the result we wanted, so there's not a whole lot [of positives]," Pavelski said. "We have to learn from it and just understand that we have to do it the right way. We have a system set in place and we have to do it the right way."

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