The San Jose Sharks suffered their second disappointing Game One home ice loss of the playoffs, dropping 2-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks, just as they did to open the quarterfinals against the Colorado Avalanche.
For all you Blackhawk fans reading this, take a deep breath.
I am not about to offer the frivolous argument that because the Sharks overcame a 1-0 series deficit to the Avalanche, they can do so against the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks are a much better team than Colorado. They have much better defense, much more balanced scoring and a lot more star power.
However, there are signs the Sharks are in very good position to take control of the series.
Throughout the regular season hockey fans anticipated a potential matchup between Chicago and San Jose in the Western Conference Finals. The main speculation was should the two teams ultimately meet, the Blackhawks are too fast, too balanced, and too high-powered for the Sharks to keep up with.
Playoff performance added to the speculation, as the Blackhawks spread offense through all their lines beautifully in the first two series and had six different players with game-winning goals.
Sunday’s Game One lent little if any credence to such theories. The Blackhawks won the game, but not due to overwhelming offense or a notable dichotomy of speed or youthful skill.
Instead, the Sharks peppered the Chicago net with 45 shots (despite allowing 40 themselves) and carried the play for long stretches of the game. They had the clear advantage in prime scoring chances, and if not for the play of Antti Niemi, who had arguably his finest performance of the playoffs, the outcome likely could have been quite different.
Neither Blackhawk goal was of the particularly dazzling variety, and it appeared both teams were extremely well-matched.
Niemi has shown some inconsistency in the playoffs, not being able to post a save percentage above .900 in more than two consecutive games (a total in which Sunday’s win brought his current streak).
This suggests that if the Sharks maintain their level of play Tuesday, they stand a great chance to even the series.
That would send things back to Chicago tied 1-1. While that would technically give the Blackhawks home-ice advantage in a five-game series, they have struggled at home in the postseason, posting merely a 3-3 record.
In the Conference Semifinals, the Blackhawks lost two of three home games and relied on a 3-0 road record aided by mediocre play and poor discipline from the Vancouver Canucks to advance in the series.
All five penalties on Sunday went against the Blackhawks, and the Sharks play overall was far from mediocre. The Blackhawks should not expect another undefeated road record this series.
As long as the Sharks can rebound to win Tuesday’s game (and the team is undefeated following a loss this postseason, as are the Blackhawks), they stand to be in great position to at worst return to San Jose for Game Five with the series tied at two.
Sunday’s game showed two well-matched teams in a tight battle which unfortunately went the wrong way for the home squad. Now it is time for the Sharks to make the series tight.
Keep the Faith!