CHICAGO – It didn’t take much introspection for the Sharks to figure out what went wrong in their 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks on Sunday night at United Center.
Don’t show up to play at the opening puck drop, and chances are the recent two-time Stanley Cup champions – hungry for a win – will take care of business.
Three goals in less than three minutes, coming on 20 shots in the opening frame including several odd-man rushes, was all Chicago needed to get by the Sharks.
“I saw a team that wasn’t prepared to compete, lacked catalysts, guys that were going to settle the game down and make us play the right way, and as a result we’re down by three,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We adjust and talk about it between the first and second, then we start to play the way you have to play against that team to win. I was really disappointed in our group in the first period.”
Joe Pavelski said: “The first wasn’t good on our part. Two-on-ones, three-on-twos. It’s uncharacteristic features out there. That just can’t happen, especially on a back-to-back. We knew we were going to have to check well to beat these guys tonight.”
To the Sharks’ credit, they managed to make a game of it later – and a good one, at that. San Jose managed to get on the board late in the first on one of two Pavelski goals, outskated Chicago for most of the second, and a Pavelski power play marker at 4:51 of the middle frame brought the visitors back to within 3-2 with plenty of time remaining.
San Jose had a few chances to tie it, too, up until Bryan Bickell’s goal with less than five minutes to go in regulation. Barclay Goodrow was denied on a breakaway with eight minutes left in the second, Pavelski nearly recorded the hat trick early in the third on a Joe Thornton pass that he wasn’t quite able to get his stick on, and a third period power play went by the wayside.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic said: “Could have easily made it 3-3, or 4-3. Breakaway, [Corey Crawford] made a nice save. The first period they were all over us, second period we were all over them. They were able to squeak one out in the third.”
The Sharks’ response to their poor opening frame may have made the end result even more frustrating, though. If they had not erred so frequently early in the game, the win in a building in which they’ve struggled for years was there for the taking.
“You can’t spot these guys a period. You can’t play two out of three,” Scott Hannan said. “I think if we played better in the first we had a shot at that game.”
Bickell’s goal that made it a 4-2 Blackhawks lead, basically putting the game away, came when he skated from behind the net and turned around on Mirco Mueller and beat Niemi on a shot that glanced in off of the near post. The former Chicago goalie likely would have stopped it had he not gone into a crouch.
“I know about where the puck is, and I’m trying to cover the net as well as possible,” Niemi said. “I thought there wasn’t much room, but he was able to elevate the puck and hit it off the post.”
Still, this was a game that was lost early.
“We didn’t play well in the first period. We didn’t do anything right,” Vlasic said. “Fell behind 3-0, and it’s tough to come back against a team like that.”