SAN JOSE – The first time the Sharks faced the Blackhawks on Nov. 9 it was under difficult circumstances, as San Jose was playing the second of a back-to-back on the road and third game in four nights overall.
Chicago, meanwhile, had been stewing over a 3-2 home loss against Washington two nights earlier, in which the Capitals scored the game-winner with less than five seconds remaining in regulation.
It was decided in the first period. The Blackhawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 14-and-a-half minutes, outshooting the Sharks 20-9 in the opening frame at United Center. Although San Jose would get back to within 3-2 in the second period, Chicago went on to a 5-2 victory.
Logan Couture, who retains details and moments better than perhaps anyone on the Sharks’ roster, recalled the loss.
“We were flat and it was on a back-to-back, and they took it to us that game,” Couture said.
Roles will be reversed when the Sharks host the Blackhawks on Saturday. Chicago will be facing Anaheim on Friday night at Honda Center, and the Ducks are likely to be a bit ornery after getting pasted by San Jose on Thursday, 6-3.
[RECAP: Sharks explode in second, beat Ducks 6-3]
The Blackhawks have to fly to the Bay Area after the game and play their third in four nights against a Sharks team that is 4-1-1 in its last six.
Couture said: “Hopefully we’ll take advantage of them. Get on them early.”
Overall, the Blackhawks have won eight of the previous 12 matchups between the teams, while two of the Sharks’ four wins have come in a shootout.
“A speed and skill opponent, a team that can score a lot. We haven’t had a lot of luck against them,” Todd McLellan said. “It’s time to play a good game here at home against Chicago and try and put more points in the bank.”
Along with the win over Anaheim on Thursday, the Sharks also beat Los Angeles in the final game before the All-Star break on Jan. 21, 4-2. They continue to play better against tougher opponents, and while having some of their worst games against non-playoff teams, such as an unsightly 5-2 loss to New Jersey on Jan. 19.
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Any way you look at it, though, three straight wins over the Kings, Ducks and Blackhawks would be an accomplishment.
“You definitely get up for those games. They’re measuring stick games,” Patrick Marleau said.
[KURZ: Sharks' Marleau finding his scoring touch again]
Couture agreed with his linemate.
“It’s a challenge playing against those guys. They’ve got so muck skill up front, great defensemen, and their goaltender plays well. I guess you would say, yeah, it’s a measuring stick for us.”
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Antti Niemi is likely to start against the Blackhawks on Saturday, after manning the crease for each of the last two wins.
Niemi has struggled against the team he helped to win the Stanley Cup in 2010. In his last nine starts vs. Chicago, the 31-year-old is 2-6-1 with a 3.30 goals-against average and .900 save percentage, allowing four-plus goals five times.
Conversely, he’s been good against the Blackhawks at SAP Center, going 5-1-0 with a 1.79 GAA and .941 SP and one shutout since signing with the Sharks.