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The Momentous Tug-of-War

by Alison High / San Jose Sharks
The opportunities were there. You can’t blame the Sharks loss in Game One for a lack of chances.

San Jose began the first period with aggression; outhitting the Blackhawks and going stride for stride with the fastest team they’ve faced in the postseason. They drew three power plays and converted on their second attempt. They outshot the Hawks 13-8.

It was a great start to the Western Conference Final.

But at the start of the second, the game developed a “see-saw” dynamic. The Blackhawks gained momentum and evened the shot total by outshooting the Sharks, 12-1, over a nine minute stretch. Then, after Brent Seabrook was called for holding, the Sharks went on to take the next 10 shots of the period, including eight on the power play.

It was like a game of tug-of-war. Whenever the Sharks would make a flurry, Chicago answered. Whenever the Hawks put a string of shots together, San Jose peppered the net. The Sharks were getting more shots on goal than Chicago --- 31-22 after two periods --- but they couldn’t crack their goalie.

“Good first, good third and average second period,” said Joe Thornton following the game. “We’ve got to be better.”

Ryane Clowe had one of the best opportunities for San Jose during the second. With less than five minutes remaining in the period, Clowe made a backhanded shot from the low right side. While sprawling on the ice, Blackhawks netminder Antti Niemi pulled the puck off the goal line. The game remained tied. Niemi referred to it as his best save of the game.

“During the second half of the second period we had real good pushes,” said Clowe. “We were getting pucks behind them.”

The third period was all about fire-power. The Sharks put 14 shots on goal and ended the night outshooting Chicago 45-40. But even with all their chances, San Jose ended up on the wrong side of the score card and dropped Game One, 2-1.

“We lost the game and that’s the bottom line,” said defenseman Dan Boyle. “That’s it. It’s as simple as it gets.”

Boyle led the Sharks in ice time with 26:39, including 5:49 on the power play. He earned an assist on the Sharks power play goal in the first period and took six shots on Niemi while blocking five shots on defense.

“We’ve been in that situation before where we’ve had more chances than the other side and their goalie makes some big saves,” added Boyle. “It’s the same old thing. We’ve got to get some traffic in front and not let him see. We’ve got to get some second and third opportunities. It’s nothing different than other teams or other goalies.”

It’s not surprising that the Sharks and Blackhawks would combine for 85 shots on goal. During the regular season San Jose ranked fourth in goals (264) while Chicago ranked third (271) and only the Washington Capitals amassed more points than these Western Conference titans.

“We’re two pretty offensive-minded teams,” said Blake following the game. “The styles that we play will generate a lot of pucks to the net.”

“We had a real good push at the end of the second and then the third was a see-saw back and forth,” said Ryane Clowe.

When two of the most offensively talented teams in the NHL combine for three goals, credit has to go to the netminders. Both goalies had outstanding performances; Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov 38 saves and was named second star of the game while Niemi made 44 and was named the first star.

“It’s two good, skilled teams,” said Nabokov. “There’s going to be a lot of shots and it’s going to be a fast game. Both teams had momentum in the first and second periods. Unfortunately, we couldn’t score more than them.”

Now the Sharks will put this behind them and focus on Game Two, which will take place Tuesday at 7 p.m. at HP Pavilion.

“Obviously you want to win the first one, but we’ve been in this situation before,” said Clowe. “We’ll just look to the next one. It’s all you can do.”
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