In an outcome that is well known to Sharks fans by now: The San Jose Sharks dropped another Game One on home ice. And while the Sharks did not play poorly, or show excessive rust, in the end they still failed to capitalize on home ice advantage.
The Sharks came out strong in the first period, outchancing the younger, faster, and in-sync Blackhawk team. With play being carried by the first and second lines, Antti Niemi stood tall against the Shark attack. The Sharks controlled the first period and Demers gave them a 1-0 lead with a great feed from Marleau, when his slap shot from the top of the right faceoff circle glanced off Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith and past Niemi at 11:19.
The Blackhawks came out roaring in the second period, forechecking the Sharks relentlessly and creating turnovers. Both early in the second and third was where the Blackhawks speed played well, hemming the Sharks in their own zone and creating chances off of turnovers.
Patrick Sharp capped the surge by scoring on a softie of a shot from just outside the circles and, like they have all postseason, the Sharks responded. From the Patrick Sharp goal onward, the Sharks took play to the Blackhawks in the second period in which they outshot the Hawks 12-0.
Many experts picked the Blackhawks to win because of their tempo and speed as well as their offensive skill and depth. While the Hawks' speed put the Sharks back on their heels a bit during a few stretches, by no means were the Sharks defensemen dominated.
The third period allowed for quite a bit more back and forth from both teams, but sadly, one mental lapse allowed for the game-winning goal. In my previous game preview breakdown, I mentioned our oddball lapses of concentration and defensive lapses that continued to plague them in the postseason. Game One would prove my point in spades.
After a defensive draw was won by Jonathan Toews, the puck got caught up with Vlasic and Patrick Kane. Instead of coming up in the slot and taking on Dustin Byfuglien, Dany Heatley sank down to protect the net. Patrick Kane whipped a pass to Byfuglien in the slot and Rob Blake came up too late to take him, as Nabokov was beat at his five-hole.
A lot of people seem to be hitting the panic button, and while I will admit that the Sharks are now playing with their backs against the wall, they did play well. Some of these very same people will be quick to point out the boxscore and blame San Jose's top line, who were on the ice for both goals and generated no goals themselves.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Their top line played hard, played well, and, short of putting the puck in the net, did everything they needed to. This series is going to go to six or seven games, and Game One only reinforced that fact.
For those Sharks fans feeling a little skittish, I would suggest taking a step back. The Sharks played well and played hard. Results will follow. They need to pay attention to a few minor details but their effort and the way they responded in Game One is a positive moving forward.
What needs to happen moving forward?
Put the Power Back in the Power Play
The Sharks sleepwalked through their first three power plays, exhibiting some rust with off-target passes and some timing issues. The Blackhawks have a great PK unit, but the Sharks have got to finish off our opportunities when they arise.
Simplify the Game and GET PEOPLE TO THE NET
They need to play smarter simpler hockey and keep working hard to create the chances and capitalize. This is most applicable to their defense, as they just struggled to get a decent breakout led out of their zone at times. This means keep the breakout simple, crash the net, and get into Antti Niemi's face.
Keep Their Heads Down and Continue To Work
The Sharks need to ignore the fact that they have now lost four straight games at home in WCF round, ignore the fact that they committed some costly turnovers, and ignore the fact that they lost home ice advantage. None of these things mattered before they started this series, and they would be wrong to start making them matter now. San Jose played hard enough to win, they just didn't execute when they needed to.
Stars of the Game
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook—These two continually foiled the Sharks top line with some HUGE key plays early in the first period, Keith stopping a Thornton shot at a wide open net in the crease topping the list. These guys played up to their Olympic pedigrees and did an excellent job making some key plays in their zone.
Dustin Byfuglien—I wrote in the preview about how crucial it was for San Jose to contain the big man, who is listed at 247 lbs., and keep him out of the crease. Seeing this guy in person tells another story, because he looks and plays like a 300 pound bull in a china shop.
Antti Niemi—The rookie goaltender stopped 44 of 45 shots in Game One and now sports an impressive .918 save percentage. He came up huge in the first period and turned away some great scoring chances, including robbing Clowe at 15:48 of the second period. Niemi also stood tall late in the third but overall did not have difficulty locating the puck.
Goat of the Game
Niclas Wallin—He looked about as lost as a supposed Stanley Cup winning defenseman can look in Game One. Wallin has been a lower body injury (healthy) scratch for several games, and he'll be another for Game Two if his performance in Game One is any indication. The Sharks committed 11 more turnovers than the Blackhawks, and I counted four directly from Wallin.
If Wallin wasn't committing a horrendous turnover, or blindly flipping it out of the zone, he was being skated around by the likes of the Blackhawk third liners. Most egregious of the errors against Versteeg late in the second frame, talk about looking like a traffic pylon.
Evgeni Nabokov—While he did not enjoy the best support at times in this game, and made several key stops in Game One, he needs to play better. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Nabokov made some huge saves in the game, locating shots through tough screens and answering the call when things broke down in front of him.
The two goals against, however, were questionable at best, while the Sharp goal was just flat out soft. I wrote in the Game one preview that this was Nabokov's series to win. This was his chance to show that he can outplay the opponent goalie and carry the team on his back. We need him to show up, and show up for a full 60.