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Sharp, Blackhawks rebound vs. Sharks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Twenty-four hours after being embarrassed by the Nashville Predators, the Chicago Blackhawks were highly motivated when they took the ice against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night.

It showed.

Led by a strong defensive performance in front of goalie Corey Crawford (23 saves) plus a three-point game by Patrick Sharp (two goals), the Blackhawks bounced back strong with a 5-1 victory at United Center.

"We wanted to prove to ourselves that last night wasn't good enough," Sharp said. "We were all embarrassed, and thankfully we had a short turnaround to get back out there and play again. I was really happy with the way we all responded and had a great start to the first quarter [of the season]."

The loss was just the third in regulation for the Sharks (13-3-5), who came into the game with 31 points, one more than Chicago.

Sharp scored in the second period and then capped off the scoring with a penalty shot late in the third to put the icing on the win, his first successful penalty shot in five tries with the Blackhawks. Sharp combined with Kris Versteeg (one goal, one assist) and Brandon Saad (two assists) to lead the way offensively for Chicago.

The Blackhawks (14-3-4) also got goals from Jonathan Toews and rookie Brandon Pirri, who scored for the third straight game and notched a point for the fourth straight contest.

It was also a good night for the home team in the defensive zone. The Blackhawks blocked 14 shots and were credited with 10 takeaways on the scoresheet.

"We're happy with the way we responded," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "Nobody was happy about the way things ended up [Saturday] night, but we moved on and did a good job regrouping. I thought we got better as the game went along and used our speed to our advantage."

As happy as the Blackhawks were about their bounce-back win, Sharks coach Todd McLellan was equally unhappy with his team's play, even if it was the last stop of a five-game road trip. Most disappointing to McLellan was what he felt was sloppy play.

The San Jose coach thought his team looked a little lethargic, even though it was Chicago, not the Sharks, that played back-to-back nights.

"When I look at the game, we lacked a lot of energy that we needed to play in this type of game," McLellan said. "And when you don't have energy, you'd better be sharp mentally, and we may have been really poor in that area."

It showed in the number of times the Sharks coughed up the puck and failed to win battles for possession in all three zones.

"If their [defensemen] get to move the puck up ice with their eyes up instead of turning, their counterpunch is incredible and we learned that lesson again," McLellan said. "We either didn't want to hear it or didn't want to listen to it or we didn't want to buy into it. I don't know what it was, but we certainly played into their hands."

Joe Pavelski scored the lone goal for San Jose, and former Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi took the loss.

Chicago improved to 12-0-3 when scoring first. The Blackhawks took a 1-0 lead at 16:34 of an evenly played first period on Pirri's goal. It was the rookie center's fourth goal in his past six games and fifth of the season.

The goal was created by Kane's shot from the right circle, which was blocked by Scott Hannan in front of the net. The deflected puck landed right near Pirri's stick in the left circle and he buried it. The assists went to Versteeg and Kane, who has at least a point in seven straight games (four goals, five assists).

It was Versteeg's first game back at United Center in a Blackhawks uniform since being traded shortly after the team won the Stanley Cup in 2010. After being reacquired last week in a trade with the Florida Panthers, the big win almost made up for a sour debut in Nashville the night before.

"It was emotional coming back," he said. "[Saturday] night definitely wasn't the way I saw coming back in my head, but tonight was very exciting. The guys put in a big effort, and obviously we've got to keep that going [heading] into a big road trip."

It took almost half of the second period, but Pavelski got the Sharks even at 1-1 8:16 into the middle period. He scored his eighth goal in unconventional fashion, firing a shot from the slot that Crawford had trouble gloving and wound up knocking into his own net.

Four minutes later, Sharp's sixth goal of the season gave the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead. The one-time blast from the left circle came after a perfect cross-ice feed by Marcus Kruger. Sharp also played a role in Toews' 10th goal of the season, picking up a secondary assist when the Blackhawks captain followed up his own shot to make it 3-1 at 3:39 of the third.

Versteeg scored at 15:10 to put Chicago up 4-1. Sharp then beat Niemi on the penalty shot with a pretty backhand-forehand move before lifting it into the top right corner to close out the scoring.

Chicago will now embark on a seven-game road trip, and will play eight of its next nine games on the road.

The Sharks return to San Jose for a five-game homestand knowing they need to be better than what they showed in the Windy City.

"You just have to get it back past their [defense]," San Jose captain Joe Thornton said. "That’s the key. A couple of their goals, we didn’t do that and then it’s game over. It’s a long trip, and we’re going to be glad to get home."

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