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May 18, 2010
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If the Hawks can find a way to keep their road mentality in their own barn for Games 3 and 4 against San Jose, this series could be over by Sunday evening.
Chicago took a big step toward advancing to the Stanley Cup Final on Tuesday night with a 4-2 victory in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final. The win is the Blackhawks' seventh straight on the road, breaking an 18-year-old club mark and tying a Stanley Cup Playoffs record. The 1980 and '82 New York Islanders, the 1995 New Jersey Devils and the 1999 Colorado Avalanche also won seven in a row on the road; all but the Avs also won the Stanley Cup.
"We've been pretty consistent on the road," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I like our approach and I think our focus is in the right area. The guys are sticking together off the ice and they come prepared for games and playing a simpler game than we've probably seen at home. I think we want to make sure that we duplicate the way we've played here on the road and we think that's the recipe for being successful."
After combining for 85 shots in Game 1, a 2-1 Chicago victory, the Hawks and Sharks limited the offensive chances in Game 2 and combined only for 49 shots. However, Hawks goalie Antti Niemi, who stopped 44 of 45 shots in Game 1 Sunday, was solid again in stopping 25 of 27 shots.
Niemi was beat twice by Patrick Marleau, who picked the short-side corner from the left circle for a power-play goal midway through the second period. But by then, Chicago was already ahead 3-0 at the time thanks to goals 90 seconds apart by Dustin Byfuglien and Jonathan Toews, who beat Evgeni Nabokov with a deflection goal on the power play, and a first-period goal by Andrew Ladd on a screened 45-foot wrister.
"Obviously our execution has to be better," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "Up until they scored, we handled the puck well; we carried the puck well in the neutral zone against a very good team. And then that goal took a lot out of us for some reason. It's disappointing because we have had that resiliency and it took us a while to get that energy level back up where it needed to be. "
An offensive-zone turnover by Niclas Wallin set the Blackhawks' up for their fourth goal of the night 6:18 into the third period. Troy Brouwer was credited with it because he got a piece of Niklas Hjalmarsson's blast from the left point. Marian Hossa stole the puck from Wallin and got it up to Hjalmarsson for the shot as Brouwer crashed in from the left side.
Marleau scored another one, the Sharks' first even-strength goal of the series, with 4:28 remaining when he stuffed home a loose puck in front of Niemi. However, the Sharks were already burned by the traffic the Blackhawks created in front of Nabokov.
Brouwer's deflection goal from in front was the third like it by the Hawks in Game 2. Byfuglien and Toews scored their goals from directly in front of the blue paint to put the Hawks up 3-0 with 11:31 left.
The Hawks grabbed a 2-0 lead 6:59 into the period when Patrick Kane's seemingly harmless shot from the top of the zone was tipped in front by Byfuglien, who gained position in front of Sharks captain Rob Blake.
"We checked well and we took advantage of some plays at the net with traffic," Quenneville said. "I think Buff has been a big presence there."
Toews also had position on Marc-Edouard Vlasic near the right post when he scored a power-play goal at 8:29.
This time, Kane played the puck up the right wing wall to Duncan Keith, who quickly slapped a shot toward the high traffic area. Again, it was Toews and Byfuglien in front and Toews was able to deflect the puck in. It rang loudly off the back post, too.
One of the keys for Chicago in Game 2 was to gain better position in front of Nabokov. The Hawks didn't think they did a good enough job establishing position in front of the goalie in Game 1, but it didn't matter because they scored two goals from the perimeter.
Tuesday night, it was all about bothering Nabokov. In fact, he might have been distracted on Ladd's goal 12:48 into the first period that got the Blackhawks started. If he was, it was his own player, Wallin, causing the trouble.
Ladd dragged the puck and from outside the top of the left circle ripped a wrist shot through Wallin and over Nabokov's catching glove, catching the top right corner. Wallin may have screened Nabokov because he definitely reacted slowly to the quick shot.
"We saw what the first goal did to our hockey club tonight," McLellan said. "It took some of the energy out of the building; it took a lot of energy out of our team and it took us a while to get our heads up again. "
The goal came at the end of a long double-shift for Sharks center Joe Thornton, who started playing with Torrey Mitchell and Jamie McGinn and was headed off the ice when Ladd scored. Thornton and Dany Heatley each picked up a minus on the goal, leaving the Sharks' top trio, which includes Marleau, as a minus-18 in the playoffs.
Even though he had the last change, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was able to get the matchup he wanted against Thornton, Marleau and Heatley virtually the entire night.
Dave Bolland, Ladd and Kris Versteeg were all over the Sharks' Big Three. Not only that, the Hawks checkers created offense, too, and got one on Ladd's goal.
By the midway point of the third period Thornton had had enough and he showed his frustration when he whacked Bolland's wrists before the official dropped the puck on an in-zone faceoff for the Sharks.
Bolland left the ice in serious pain, grabbing his wrist, while Thornton went to the box for slashing. It was San Jose's third of four penalties on the night after it went without one throughout Game 1.
Chicago was whistled for only one minor penalty, a holding call on Bolland that set up Marleau's first goal of the night.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl