Hawks beat Sharks 4-2 for 2-0 lead in Western Finals
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Chicago Blackhawks head home Wednesday after nine days on the road. They might want to think about getting some hotel rooms, ordering room service and using the visitors dressing at United Center.
If the Hawks can find a way to maintain their road mentality in their own barn for Games 3 and 4 against San Jose, this series could be over by Sunday evening.
Chicago took another step toward advancing to the Stanley Cup Final on Tuesday at HP Pavilion with a 4-2 victory in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final. They grabbed a 2-0 lead in the series with their seventh straight win on the road, which breaks an 18-year-old club record and ties a Playoffs' record for consecutive road victories.
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The last team to reel off seven straight road wins in the playoffs was Colorado in 1999. Three other teams did it, too -- the 1980 and '82 New York Islanders as well as the 1995 New Jersey Devils. All three of those teams went on to win the Stanley Cup.
"It's an honor, something that we've worked hard as a team to get," said Blackhawks winger Dustin Byfuglien, who scored his sixth goal in six games, proving anything he touches indeed is turning to gold now. "We have to focus on home now and be ready to go when we get back. It's definitely going to be nice to get back home and get in front of our fans. They're going to be loud."
They were loud inside the Shark Tank again Tuesday, and again the home team got off to a good start. But for the second straight game, the Sharks couldn't capitalize on their good start -- and eventually they wilted under the Blackhawks' relentless pressure.
It started with Andrew Ladd's goal 12:48 into the first period and continued in the second when Byfuglien and Jonathan Toews scored 90 seconds apart to put the Hawks up 3-0 before the game was halfway over.
"Somehow we have to harness what we start with and continue on," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We can't let little bumps in the road slow us down. I'm not sure it's about skating any faster. It's the puck movement. We don't continue to do what we started to do. We try and force it a little bit more. All of a sudden we look slower."
Ladd's wrist shot from beyond the top of the left circle went through Niclas Wallin and past goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who might have been screened by his own defenseman.
Traffic in front of Nabokov was the difference on both Byfuglien's and Toews' goals. They scored on deflections of perimeter shots because they won battles for position near the blue paint.
Patrick Marleau got the Sharks on the board with a power play goal with 8:52 left in the second, but Troy Brouwer extended the Blackhawks 6:18 into the third period when he went hard to the net and got a piece of Niklas Hjalmarsson's blast from the left point.
"We'll take them any way we can," said Toews, who now has points in 11 consecutive games and leads the NHL with 16 assists and 23 points. "Tonight we got a couple ugly ones in front of the net. If we keep doing things right, we'll keep having success."
After combining for 85 shots in Game 1, a 2-1 Chicago victory, the Hawks and Sharks limited the offensive chances in Game 2 and combined only for 49 shots.
However, Hawks goalie Antti Niemi, who stopped 44 of 45 shots in Game 1 Sunday, was again solid with 25 saves -- and the Blackhawks once again limited any timely offensive production from the Sharks' Big Three of Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley.
Marleau had both goals, but his first was on the power play when the Hawks already had a 3-0 lead and his second came at even strength with just 4:28 to play in a game that was all but over by that point.
Heatley had only two shots on goal and now has just two goals in his last 19 games. Thornton was a minus-2 and took a bad slashing penalty when he whacked Dave Bolland in the wrists before the official could drop the puck on an in-zone faceoff for the Sharks.
"We're working hard, but we're not working hard enough," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "I don't know. I've got to watch film. Obviously as a man, we've got to look in the mirror. Pretty sure that we can and we'll all see our game needs to be elevated."
Byfuglien made it 2-0 because he won his patch of ice from Sharks captain Rob Blake and tipped Patrick Kane's seemingly harmless shot from the top of the slot past Nabokov. Toews also had position on Marc-Edouard Vlasic near the right post.
Douglas Murray went to the penalty box for roughing Adam Burish in the defensive zone and Toews wasted little time extending the lead to 3-0. He got in front of Nabokov and deflected Duncan Keith's shot from the right point.
"We have two days here now to look at that," McLellan said of how the Sharks plan to handle the Hawks' presence in front of Nabokov when the series resumes Friday in Chicago. "We'll look at the video. We'll certainly sit with our defensive group and our goaltenders and make sure that we're still approaching it properly."
Even though he didn't have the last change, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was able to get the matchup he wanted -- Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg and Ladd against Thornton, Marleau and Heatley -- for good stretches.
By the midway point of the third period, Thornton had had enough and he showed his frustration when he slashed Bolland's wrists before the linesman dropped the puck on a faceoff.
There was also some extra-curricular activity in the last minute of the game. Ryane Clowe, Heatley, Ladd and Brent Seabrook were all given matching roughing minors, but Clowe also got a 10-minute misconduct for losing his cool.
San Jose had better find its composure in Chicago or the trip home could come quickly.
"I expect them to respond. It's as simple as that," McLellan said. "Throughout this playoff we've built character. This gives us an opportunity now to add to that. We've always boasted about our leadership in the locker room. We'll need that now."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Shift of the game: One of the things the Blackhawks wanted to get in Game 2 was better position in front of Evgeni Nabokov, who was seeing pucks well in Game 1. They definitely got it on their second goal. It appeared that Patrick Kane's wrist shot from the top of the zone would be harmless because it was soft, but he shot the puck into traffic with Dustin Byfuglien and Jonathan Toews in front battling with Rob Blake and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, respectively. Byfuglien, as he should with his 257-pound body, won position over Blake and was able to get a piece of the shot to deflect it in for his sixth playoff goal. The same two Hawks were in front of the net 90 seconds later -- and this time Toews got a piece of Duncan Keith's slap shot from the right point for a power-play goal.