The San Jose Sharks
sure know how to spoil a party.
The United Center was packed Friday night as the Chicago Blackhawks honored arguably their two greatest players, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. The 21,908 fans roared in honor of the heroes of their last Stanley Cup victory in 1961 - then celebrated again when defenseman Brent Seabrook put the current Hawks ahead with a power-play goal 3:35 into the game.
But the Sharks were the NHL’s hottest team when they came to Chicago — and they left the same way. Patrick Marleau’s tie-breaking goal in the second period gave the Sharks a 3-2 victory, their eighth win in a row, tying the franchise record. It was also the Sharks’ 11th consecutive victory over the Hawks.
''I thought we played almost a perfect road game,'' said Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who finished with 17 saves for his 38th victory, breaking his own team single-season record.
''We've been skating well defensively .There was one weird goal, but we stuck with the system.''
San Jose now has 86 points and is just one behind idle Dallas for first place in the Pacific Division. The Sharks moved three points ahead of Anaheim for second.
"Any time we can win or catch someone we're glad," defenseman Kyle McLaren said. "We have got two games in hand on Anaheim and Dallas and are doing what we can to be number one."
Marleau said the Sharks also got a boost from watching the ceremony, which included Sharks GM Doug Wilson, a star with the Hawks in the 1980s.
''That was great,'' Marleau said. ''Obviously, we knew we wanted to try to harness a little bit of that ourselves. They came out firing and were pumped up.''
Chicago, desperate for points in the Western Conference race, were disappointed after falling six points out of the final playoff berth.
“It was a great ceremony. The boys really enjoyed it,” Seabrook said. “I wish we could have gotten a victory.
Joe Thornton set up all three goals for San Jose, which also won its sixth in a row on the road.
“He’s a great player, as good as they come,” Chicago coach Denis Savard said. He has size, vision, and he battles. He makes things look easy out there.”
Thornton’s first assist helped quiet the crowd, which was raising the roof after Seabrook’s goal. Thornton got the puck in the Hawks’ zone and fed Jonathan Cheechoo, who chopped a shot behind Patrick Lalime just 17 seconds after the Hawks had gone in front.
McLaren gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead at 12:45 when he skated down the slot and converted Thornton's feed from behind the net. But Hawks rookie Jonathan Toews tied it with 1:51 left in the period when he deflected Duncan Keith's drive from the left point behind Evgeni Nabokov.
Marleau's goal at 14:31 of the second period, his fourth in three games, put San Jose ahead to stay. The Sharks’ captain got a step on Seabrook and snapped a shot from the left circle under Lalime’s blocker.
The Sharks then did what they do best — shut down the opposition. The Hawks had few chances until the final minute. It appeared that Rene Bourque had tied the game with 31.2 seconds remaining by knocking in the rebound of Dustin Byfuglien’s shot. But referee Steve Kozari immediately waved off the goal, ruling that Bourque had knocked the puck in with his glove. Video replay confirmed the ruling.
“Your hands are attached to your stick,” said Savard, who wasn’t happy with the disallowed goal. “It’s not like he batted it into the net. Your hands are on your stick; they’re attached to your stick. It’s a game of inches, I guess.”
The Sharks are finishing strong for the third straight season. They went 8-1-0 in their final nine games in 2005-06 and 13-1-3 in their final 17 last season.
''We're still not where we want to be,'' Marleau said.
''It's coming for us. We just have to keep working at it because it's still pretty tight and we want to get has high as we can.''
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.