Blackhawks improve to NHL-best 8-0-2 with win over Sharks
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org February 6, 2013 12:25AM
Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad, second from left, celebrates with teammates after scoring against the San Jose Sharks during the first period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Updated: February 6, 2013 1:07AM
SAN JOSE, Calif. — In the hours leading up to Tuesday night’s showdown of the top two teams in the NHL, both the Blackhawks and Sharks talked about how the league was tightening up, how teams were settling in to their schemes, how defense was taking over and how the wild shootouts of the first week or so were a thing of the past.
“The first few games for us were fantasy games,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, before adding: “This is reality.”
Then the Hawks and Sharks proceeded to go out and score six goals in the first period, including four in an 89-second span. Call it an alternate reality.
And it turns out former Hawk and current Shark Adam Burish was right when he said the last thing you want to do is get into a shootout with the Hawks. Despite falling behind 2-0 and 3-1 early in the first period, the Hawks pulled out a 5-3 victory over San Jose to continue their remarkable start to the season. With more than 20 percent of the season in the books, the Hawks have yet to lose in regulation — 8-0-2, despite playing just two home games all season.
“It’s been a great start; we’re happy with everything,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We like the balance, the four-line rotation’s been great. A tough schedule, as well, in tough buildings. Finding a way to win has been a good sign for us. We’re having fun right now.”
It didn’t start too fun for the Hawks. But as alarming as the early lack of defense and goaltending were, the offensive surge was just as encouraging for the Hawks, who had been struggling to score of late. After scoring just three goals in their last eight periods (plus three overtimes), the Hawks scored three goals in 89 seconds in a wild first-period sequence.
Already trailing 2-0 on goals by Joe Pavelski and Evanston native and New Trier grad Tommy Wingels barely five minutes into the game, the Hawks offense woke up. And it was Brandon Saad — the tortured rookie who had been coming so close to scoring his first career goal but kept coming up just short — who got the Hawks on the board. He put a Brent Seabrook rebound past Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi at the 10:08 mark, giving a big windmill fist-pump behind the net after finally breaking through.
Saad said his celebration move wasn’t premeditated.
“No, not really,” he said with a big smile. “I was just pretty excited. Whatever came to mind.”
And things were only getting started.
Thirty-nine seconds later, the good vibes for the Hawks disappeared when former Hawk Michael Handzus beat Corey Crawford from the left circle, a bad goal for Crawford, who’s been so sharp all season. But just eight seconds after that — with the crowd still dancing in the aisles over the Handzus goal — Andrew Shaw scored to cut the Sharks lead to 3-2.
And 42 seconds after that — an eternity in this period — Marcus Kruger picked up his first goal of the season, taking advantage when Sharks defenseman Justin Braun carried the puck right into Wingels’ skates in front of his own net. Kruger swept in, took the puck and scored to tie it at 3-3.
Kruger has been stellar as a penalty-killer this season, but that was his first score of the season.
“It was good to score a goal,” Kruger said.
The game took a turn in the second as the teams finally settled down. Then Sharks center Andrew Desjardins leveled Jamal Mayers with a high hit. Quenneville said it was a “marginal” hit that wasn’t too egregious, but Mayers took exception with it after the game.
“You make a decision in my opinion to go for a piece of a guy’s body, and it happened to be my head,” he said. “I think he could have made a clean hit if he just chose to, but he didn’t do that.”
While Mayers was slow to get up, Duncan Keith — who’s only fought twice since 2006 — attacked Desjardins, drawing an instigator minor, an unsportsmanlike conduct minor, a fighting major and a 10-minute misconduct penalty. Desjardins, meanwhile, earned a match penalty (reportedly rescinded after the game) and a major for the high hit, along with five for fighting.
“We’re a team that sticks together, obviously Duncs jumped in there right away, and I certainly appreciate that,” Mayers said.
In the ensuing 4-on-4 play, Jonathan Toews blatantly picked the pocket of of Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray right in front of Niemi, and passed to a streaking Patrick Kane, who easily scored past a bewildered Niemi into the yawning net for a 4-3 Hawks lead, one the defense and Crawford — finally in control after a ghastly first period — wouldn’t relinquish.
Kane finished with an empty-netter in the final minute, keeping the Hawks atop the league standings.
“It’s a good start,” Kane said. “I think it shows the excitement we have in the room, coming back from a game like that. We’ve played a lot of games on the road, a long road trip, [and] we’re still focused on hockey. It’s a good start, hopefully we can continue it. And I think we can even play better. That’s the exciting part.”