SAN JOSE, Calif. – If there’s any team that should know how tenuous a 1-0 series lead can be in the NHL playoffs it’s the Chicago Blackhawks.
The team that had to fight back after losing the opener to win the first two rounds finds itself in an unusual spot now, leading the Western Conference final 1-0 over the San Jose Sharks.
“It’s a different situation than we’ve been in most of the time,” forward Patrick Sharp said Monday. “I don’t think it changes much. It’s not going to make the series any easier being up 1-0. If anything, it will just get more difficult as we go on. It’s a great opportunity to try to take both games in their building and that’s what we’ll try to do.”
The Blackhawks, in fact, had lost four straight series openers dating to last season before seizing the home-ice advantage by winning 2-1 in Game 1 at the Shark Tank on Sunday. They came back to win three of those series, only losing last year’s conference final against Detroit.
While the Game 1 victory might take some pressure off Chicago heading into Game 2 on Tuesday night, coach Joel Quenneville wants to see the same level of desperation his team had in winning the second game in the previous two series after losing the opener.
“I just think that we got to react like we shouldn’t be satisfied, we haven’t accomplished anything, and feel like we have to win that game,” Quenneville said.
There was no sense of satisfaction in the Blackhawks locker-room on Monday and there was no sense of panic around the Sharks. Both sides still expect a long series between the top two teams in the Western Conference and they know how easily Game 1 could have swung in the other direction.
There was Antti Niemi’s sprawling glove save to rob Ryane Clowe late in the second period to keep the game tied, a faceoff win by Jonathan Toews against Joe Thornton that set up Dustin Byfuglien’s game-winning goal in the third period, and a missed one-timer by Thornton in the closing seconds that could have tied the game.
“For the most part we played pretty well,” Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle said. “We made a few defensive mistakes. But again, to get 45 shots against a team like that, keep them at two goals. It could have gone either way.”
The Sharks outshot the Blackhawks 45-40, drew five power plays to none for Chicago and controlled the play for long stretches of the game.
The biggest difference was the play of Niemi, who allowed only a first-period power play goal on a deflected shot against a team with many high-powered offensive players.
That’s why the Blackhawks aren’t worried about growing too satisfied with that one game, knowing how much better they can, and need to play.
“The good news is there’s a lot of things we can improve on and that we can do better,” Toews said. “When we looked at Game 1 watching the highlights on TV, it looks like they absolutely outplayed us. It didn’t feel that way on the ice. But we know our goaltending was huge keeping us in that game.”
It was a similar dynamic to Game 1 in the first round for San Jose, when the Sharks also lost 2-1 to Colorado. They had more chances than the Avalanche that game but goalie Craig Anderson came up big just as Niemi did in this series.
Anderson then made 51 saves in a 1-0 victory in Game 3 that gave Colorado a 2-1 series lead when Boyle’s pass deflected into his own net for the only goal. The Sharks responded by winning seven of their next eight games to make it this far.
That led to the questions Monday about whether the Sharks can draw upon that experience to help them this round.
“Well, it can’t hurt us,” coach Todd McLellan said. “But what I will say is this isn’t Colorado, this is Chicago. So it’s a completely different team and monster, if you will. The ability to overcome is going to become very important. Obviously we’re behind in the series. We expect our players to rebound.”
What gives the Sharks confidence is the number of chances they were able to generate. The second line of Clowe, Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi combined for 17 shots in the game but did not manage a single goal.
Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau both had good chances in the slot in the third period but were unable to finish, and San Jose peppered the net with quality shots on mostof its power plays.
The Sharks figure it’s only a matter of time until those chances lead to goals if they play with the same level of intensity.
“We had some pretty quality scoring chances,” Clowe said. “Getting those chances is one thing, capitalizing is another. With this group of guys and the amount of skill and the ability to score goals we have, if we get quality chances like that, we’ll put some of those in.”