CHICAGO – A night after giving up seven goals, the Chicago Blackhawks rebounded with an improved defensive effort.
Patrick Sharp scored two goals, including one on a third-period penalty shot, and Kris Versteeg had a goal and an assist to lead Chicago to a 5-1 win over San Jose in a matchup of two of the Western Conference’s top teams on Sunday night.
Jonathan Toews and rookie Brandon Pirri also scored for the Blackhawks, who lost 7-2 in Nashville on Saturday, their most lopsided this season.
“Tonight was back-and-forth, trading chances, but at the same time, there’s a lot of individual battles that we were on top of,” Sharp said.
Chicago limited road-weary San Jose to a handful of prime scoring opportunities before pulling away with three goals in the third period.
“We weren’t happy with the last game, obviously,” said Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who finished with 23 saves. “Tonight was one of our better efforts all around, defensively, from everyone in this room.
“(San Jose) came out strong, but throughout the game, we had a little bit more legs than them. We opened up the game at the end there.”
Versteeg scored his first goal with the Blackhawks in his first home game since being reacquired in trade from Florida on Thursday. A member of Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup-winning team, he joined the Blackhawks Saturday in Nashville.
“It was emotional, obviously, coming back,” Versteeg said. “Last night wasn’t definitely the way I saw coming back in my head, but tonight was very exciting. The guys put in a big effort.”
Crawford and San Jose’s Antti Niemi, the goalies who backstopped the Blackhawks to their two recent Stanley Cup titles, opposed each other.
Crawford, in nets for Chicago’s Cup run last season, allowed only a second-period goal to San Jose’s Joe Pavelski on a shot he caught, but then misplayed.
Niemi, who helped lead the 2010 Blackhawks to the championship, stopped 22 as he faced his former team for the 12th time. Niemi is 5-6-1 against the Blackhawks.
The Sharks haven’t won in Chicago since Dec. 3, 2010, Niemi’s first game against his old club. They’re 0-5-1 at the United Center since then.
And Niemi didn’t get a lot of help in this one, as the Blackhawks created chances and pounced on San Jose turnovers.
“We lacked a lot of energy that was needed to play in this game,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. “When you don’t have energy, you better be sharp mentally and we may have been poorer in that area.
“There are a lot of teams that play against the Blackhawks and I’m sure the coaches are telling them the same thing: That turnovers kill you,” McLellan added. “Their counter-punch is incredible and we learned that lesson again.
The Sharks played the final contest of a five-game road trip, finishing at 3-1-1 on a zigzagging swing with four contests in Western Canada and a finale in Chicago.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, embark on a seven-game “circus trip” Tuesday at Colorado. They don’t return to the United Center until Dec. 3 against Dallas.
Chicago started its solid send-off in the first period when Pirri scored the only goal of a crisply played frame with 3:26 left. Pirri, who led the AHL in points last year with 75 points, has goals in three straight games and four in his past six.
Patrick Kane went down the right wing into the San Jose zone, backing in Sharks defenceman Scott Hannan to the circle. Kane’s shot deflected off Hannan and across the crease to the left side of the net, where Pirri buried the loose puck.
Pavelski tied it at 8:16 of the second on a 30-foot shot from the slot. Crawford picked Pavelski’s shot out of the air with his glove, but when he lowered it to his side, the puck rolled out and trickled across the goal line.
Sharp put Chicago back ahead at 2-1 just under 4 minutes later on a one-time shot from the left circle. He ripped the puck past Niemi after taking a pinpoint cross-ice feed from Marcus Kruger.
Toews extended it to 3-1 at 3:39 of the third with his team-leading 10th goal by converting a rebound of his own shot.
Niemi stopped Toews’ first attempt after the Chicago captain skated out of the right corner, but the rebound dropped inches from the goal line. Toews skated around a scrum at the edge of the crease and tucked in the loose puck.
With Niemi down on the ice and out of the net, Versteeg converted a rebound of Brandon’s Saad shot with 4:50 left in the third to make it 4-1.
Sharp was awarded the penalty shot with 1:11 left after being pulled down by Marc-Edouard Vlasic on a breakaway. He fired high over Niemi score on a penalty shot for the first time in five chances with Chicago
NOTES: The Blackhawks placed G Nikolai Khabibulin on injured reserve with a lower-body injury suffered in Saturday’s 7-2 loss in Nashville. Chicago called up rookie Antti Raanta from Rockford of the AHL to back up Crawford. Raanta was signed as a free agent from Finland last summer and was 7-5-0 with a 2.83 goals-against average in 14 games with Rockford. … Chicago RW Marian Hossa missed his second game with a lower-body injury. Coach Joel Quenneville hopes Hossa will be able to play Tuesday in Colorado.