While we were curious what the storyline would be to develop around the Western Conference finals between Chicago and San Jose, sometimes it takes someone to make their presence known to figure out what, exactly, the story will be. Blackhawks rookie goaltender Antti Niemi decided to announce his presence in a big way in Game 1 leading the Blackhawks to a 2-1 win. Niemi stopped 44 out of 45 shots he saw in Game 1, only a rip from Jason Demers on the power play in the first period would elude him and he was well beyond stellar in stopping San Jose.
Dustin Byfuglien’s slap shot goal off a face off was the game winner with 6:45 left in the third, and a shot that equally outstanding goaltender Evgeni Nabokov (38 saves) couldn’t stop. With the game played at such a wicked pace and with both teams being outstanding defensively, it’s stunning that both goalies saw as many shots as they did, but they were equal to the task today.
It’s not as if Niemi had an easy day as the Blackhawks would take five minor penalties in the game, including one in the final minute, that essentially put Niemi on the spot. Meanwhile San Jose did not take a single penalty in the game, a point of contention the Blackhawks may have considering most games tend to hash out evenly when it comes to penalties. Then again, Chicago won the game so… What’s there to really complain about?
One fortunate break Chicago got on the final penalty they took is that while it was clear that Dave Bolland tripped Devin Setoguchi, officials Brad Watson and Paul Devorski mistakenly put Kris Versteeg in the box. Bolland wears number 36 and Versteeg wears 32, sometimes mistakes occur, only this time Bolland stayed on the ice and was key to helping kill the first 40 seconds of the penalty.
The Sharks had one final great opportunity on a cross-ice pass to Joe Thornton for a one-timer but the puck went off the heel of his stick and landed harmlessly in the corner for Chicago to obtain and clear from the zone to end the game. I’m sure most folks won’t over-analyze Jumbo Joe not getting a clean shot away in the Conference finals. For Chicago, they continue to roll in the playoffs while the Sharks seemed to expend a lot of their energy through the first 30 minutes of the game. Perhaps getting as much time off as they did did more harm than good. Game 2 will be Tuesday night at the Shark Tank.