The Sharks have been here before; in fact, they've been here recently, having dropped Game 1 of the Conference Quarterfinals to Colorado and surrendering home-ice advantage.
That series turned out pretty well, and there's every reason to think that this one is far from over as well.
One of the bright spots for the Sharks in a 2-1 defeat was goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. Nabby entered the game with a 2.43 GAA, and improved on it. He had a .907 save percentage, and improved on that with a 95% effort Sunday.
That Nabokov was named the second star of a game the team lost tells much of the story. He saved 38 of 40 shots taken by the Blackhawks, with some of the saves being downright spectacular.
"He made a lot of key saves, he played great. Both goals (he allowed) were the result of screens," said Devin Setoguchi.
His best save came against Jonathan Toews in the first period, with the Sharks leading 1-0 on a Jason Demers
goal. Toews took the puck in the slot, wide open, and put on a spin move that Nabby thwarted with a sprawling glove save.
Nabokov turned away eight shots in the first period, when the Sharks showed no ill effects from the long 8-day layoff since defeating Detroit in the second round.
"Nabby made some big saves when he had to early," said Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan.
The Sharks, as a whole, did a good job of defending in the first period, with an aggressive forecheck that kept the Blackhawks from finding any time and space to allow them to transition and skate, which is when they are particularly dangerous.
In the first dozen minutes of the second period, they got away from the game plan just a little, and the Hawks eventually made them pay when Patrick Sharp took a long shot, from the top of the right circle. Nabokov was screened by two of his own defenders on the play, and the puck tipped off Douglas Murray
and between his pads.
"I was struggling to find the puck," said Nabokov. "They were driving the net, Doug (Murray) was up front, and I didn't really see the release. I just reacted as the puck went five-hole."
The Hawks took 13 of the first 19 shots in the second period, and Nabokov stood up to nearly all of them. Finally, in the periods final seven minutes, he got a bit of a breather as the Sharks out-shot Chicago 12-1.
"They are a pretty skilled team, as are we," Nabokov said. "Both teams had momentum, but they scored one more goal than us."
The Blackhawks were relentless in the final period, putting 17 shots on goal to eight for San Jose until a San Jose flurry in the final minutes put the final mark at 45-40 in the Sharks favor. Still, the Sharks netminder was staunch until just 6:45 remained to play, when Dustin Byfuglien one-timed a pass off a rare faceoff loss by the Sharks in their own end. While the goalie's teammates suggested there was a screen in front of him, Nabokov took responsibility for the game-winner by himself.
"I think he just beat me clean on that," he simply said. "It was over the pad, he got it in a good spot. Kane made a great play (passing the faceoff win by Toews straight to Byfuglien). He (Byfuglien) one-timed it. It was kind of a quick play, and I tried to get there, but I wasn't there in time."
Nabokov put it in perspective. "You always have to overcome in the playoffs. If we win the next game, what will we talk about? Winning the one after that. It's the same approach. ... The next game is important. You always want to win the next game."