Blackhawks

LIVE: Sharp's 4 assists have Hawks in front 6-3

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LIVE: Sharp's 4 assists have Hawks in front 6-3

Monday, March 14, 2011
Posted: 10:20 a.m.
Associated Press
Antti Niemi has been a big reason why the San Jose Sharks have won all three meetings with the Chicago Blackhawks this season.

Niemi hopes to torment his former team once again Monday night when the Sharks look for a fifth straight road win while the Blackhawks try to avoid their first four-game skid in two seasons.

A hero in leading Chicago (37-24-8) to the Stanley Cup a year ago, Niemi has gone 17-3-3 with a 1.95 goals-against average while starting the Sharks' last 24 games. The GAA is the best of any goalie with at least 16 starts in that span.

Niemi is 3-0-0 with a 1.96 GAA in three starts against the Blackhawks. He made 26 saves in his return to the United Center in a 5-3 victory Dec. 30 in the last meeting between these teams.

The goalie has dropped shootouts in the last two games for San Jose (39-22-8), which fell 3-2 to the Rangers on Saturday. The Sharks remain ahead of the pack in the tightly bunched Pacific Division as they begin a two-game trip that ends Tuesday in Dallas.

"We're gonna have a couple tough games, Chicago and Dallas," coach Todd McLellan said. "We leave this one behind and let's get going forward."

Eight of the Sharks' last nine games have been decided by one goal. They also lost 5-4 to Vancouver on Thursday.

"We're at the point of the season now where a point isn't good enough," defenseman Dan Boyle said Saturday. "We had our chances, for sure. You never know if that point could cost us in the end. Hopefully it doesn't."

Boyle had two assists against the Rangers as he returned after missing six games with an upper-body injury.

San Jose winger Ben Eager will make his first return to the United Center since he was traded by Chicago to Atlanta in the offseason. Eager, who spent his previous two-plus seasons with the Blackhawks, was acquired by the Sharks on Jan. 18.

His former team is mired in a 0-1-2 stretch after Sunday's 4-3 overtime loss at Washington. The Blackhawks, who last lost four straight during a five-game skid March 13-20, 2009, were outshot 42-30.

"We'll take the point," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We weren't very good today. We were very generous in all the goals that we gave them and could've done a better job defending in those situations."

Chicago has won its last four at home, where Jonathan Toews has amassed eight points during a five-game run. Toews scored the tying goal late in regulation Sunday to give him 19 points in his last 12 games.

The Sharks have held Toews without a point in two games this season after the center amassed six in last year's sweep in the Western Conference finals.

Marian Hossa has 13 points in his last 10 games, but just one in two against San Jose this season.

The Blackhawks have outshot the Sharks twice in the first period of their three meetings, finishing even the other time. San Jose has been outshot in the opening period in its last four games.

"It says we have to start better, that's the negative, I guess," McLellan said. "But the will and the drive and the desire is there."

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?