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Sharks edge Blackhawks in shootout

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The San Jose Sharks hope to emulate the up-tempo style of the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, but their shootout win Sunday night at United Center came from grit and defense.

The Sharks earned the extra point in the second half of a back-to-back set with a 3-2 victory, beating the Blackhawks in the breakaways contest after coughing up a 1-0 lead in the third and rallying to force overtime.

Brent Burns scored his 14th goal at 11:10 of the third period off a nice feed from Joe Thornton to tie it 2-2, which countered two early strikes in the period for Chicago that were scored by defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Michal Rozsival.

"We talked about the details," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of a team meeting that was held earlier in the day. "The difference between winning and losing is a real fine one. It's hard to demand perfection, but you have to demand as close as you can get to that. The players tonight gave us that. It still was a tough task. To score only two and win a game against Chicago, you've done something pretty well."

Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski scored in the shootout for the Sharks, who got goals in regulation by Jason Demers and Brent Burns, but what San Jose did well almost all game was defend.

Forwards helped out the defensemen in front of goalie Alex Stalock (33 saves) and the Sharks kept the Blackhawks to the outside in the San Jose zone for most of the game. They also clogged the neutral zone and buzzed through shifts with all four lines, keeping them short and preserving energy after losing 4-3 in a comeback effort Saturday afternoon against the host Colorado Avalanche.

The result was San Jose's first victory in Chicago in four years.

"It was the best defensive effort we've had in this building in a while," McLellan said. "We talked a lot about it before the game. When you feed their transition, which is their biggest strength, you get yourselves in a lot of trouble. It still happened throughout the night. It's hard to play perfect, but we were pretty solid and solid in our zone. [Our] goaltender gave us a chance and everybody contributed. It was a really good game."

It was also a bit of a statement by the Sharks, who hope to be contenders for the Stanley Cup. After losing the first meeting against the Blackhawks 5-1 on Nov. 17 in the same building, San Jose was determined to play better the second time around.

"We were just a little more competitive," Thornton said. "You've got to be competitive against these guys and that's all it was. They're the champs. In my opinion, [Chicago] and [the Anaheim Ducks] are the best two teams in the [Western Conference], so to come in here in their building and beat them, it's a huge feather in our cap."

It's a defeat that will stick in the Blackhawks' craw, especially for power forward Bryan Bickell. He has one goal and one assist in eight games since returning from a 14-game injury absence and logged 5:20 of ice time on nine shifts against the Sharks, sitting out the third period and overtime.

Bickell, who signed a new contract in the off-season to stay put, has underperformed since a memorable run in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His line was on the ice for the goal by Demers midway through the first, which might've contributed to his benching.

Asked what he'd like to see Bickell do better, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was blunt.

"Just his all-around game," Quenneville said. "I just think there's more there, whether it's puck protection or recognition or being more involved, more direct."

Bickell wasn't the only Blackhawks player to struggle against the Sharks. The entire offense seemed to lack its usual jump while slogging through a strong defensive effort by San Jose. Chicago didn't draw a single penalty, which negated its highly-productive power play.

The Blackhawks did extend their season-high point streak to 10 games, but they weren't thrilled.

"We didn't really start the way we wanted to," forward Kris Versteeg said. "We came out in the third and really played our game. I thought we worked hard. Could've drawn maybe a couple more penalties, but that was the way the game went and we just had to fight through it."

Another plus for Chicago was the play of goalie Corey Crawford, who made 40 saves in his second game back from a 10-game injury absence. Crawford made a number of big stops to keep the Sharks within striking distance after Demers' goal in the first and then made a few more in the third to keep it 2-2 after Burns scored.

Burns' goal came about after a nice play by Marc-Edouard Vlasic to get the puck to Thornton just to the right of the Blackhawks net. Thornton eventually flipped a backhand pass to Burns, who was open on the back side for a tap in after knocking Hjalmarsson to the ice during a collision.

"We just wanted to play the right way," Pavelski said. "That [first] game [against Chicago] got away from us a little bit. We made a lot of careless mistakes. [This time] we wanted to make sure we kept playing and guys did a good job of that."

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