NHL Playoffs, Blackhawks vs. Sharks, Game 4: Blackhawks sweep Sharks, headed to Stanley Cup finals


Blackhawks.jpgChicago Blackhawks 4, San Jose Sharks 2

Blackhawks win series 4-0

This moment has been a very long time coming for the Chicago
Blackhawks and their boisterous, enthusiastic fans. Before 2008, the
Blackhawks had not won a playoff series since 1996 and had missed the
playoffs altogether nine times between 1997 and 2008. Even in 1995,
after a strike-shortened season, the deep run was a disappointment with
the team just a few years removed from being swept in the Stanley Cup
finals by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That 1992 team, the last time that the Chicago Blackhawks made it
this far, featured Jeremy Roenick, Steve Larmer, Brent Sutter, Chris
Chelios and Ed Belfour. This was the last truly great Blackhawks team,
nearly two decades ago, and in between nothing but bad ownership,
extreme disappointment, poor television coverage and dwindling crowds.

After Rocky Wirtz took ownership of the team and the likes of Dale
Tallon and Rick Dudley worked their magic on the roster, it’s taken just
two seasons for the Blackhawks to go from being out of the playoffs and
into the Stanley Cup finals. This isn’t a fluke postseason run, either,
where a low-seeded team gets hot at the right time. This was a
calculated season where the Blackhawks dominated all year long with one
goal and one goal only on their minds: the Stanley Cup.

That the Chicago Blackhawks clinched the Western Conference finals at
home, after a convincing sweep of the San Jose Sharks, was fitting.
These Hawks fans, who had been driven away by years of poor ownership
and management, have returned in droves to threaten to give Chicago the
best home-ice advantage in the NHL. It’s obvious how this team thrives
off the energy of the fans, how gracious they were for their support as
they skated around the ice with sticks held high as they celebrated a
tremendous victory.

Don’t let the sweep of the Sharks fool anyone; this was a hard fought
series that provided the big test that the Chicago Blackhawks needed to
prove they’re finally worthy of a Stanley Cup. They completely
overmatched the Nashville Predators and used pure emotion and grit to
take care of a deep and talented Vancouver team. Against the Sharks, a
team with which they almost little history with, they were challenged by
a team that proved just as capable as themselves to put together an
incredible amount of offensive pressure in a very short amount of time.

Several times throughout the series the Sharks were the better team,
controlling play and taking leads in three of the four games. Each time
the Blackhawks battled back, never panicking and showing an innate
ability to ramp up their play to the next level. In Game 4, with the
Sharks controlling play through the first period and most of the second
and then taking a two-goal lead, the Hawks responded with an incredible
counter attack that put the Sharks immediately back on their heals.

This wasn’t about the San Jose Sharks choking away a 2-0 lead, this
as about the Blackhawks responding and taking the game to a lever that
the Sharks just couldn’t compete at. Sometimes, a team is just better
than their opponent and in this series that was the Blackhawks, both
physically and mentally.

The Chicago Blackhawks may not have lost a game in this series to the
Sharks, but the series was much closer than the 4-0 outcome shows. In
tightly contested games and series between two extremely talented teams,
whichever side is able to find any sort of edge over the other is the
one that advances. The Blackhawks used inspired play by Antti Niemi and
Jonathan Toews, as well as incredibly timely goal scoring by the
surprising Dustin Byfuglien, to give themselves the edge to win three
very close games and all of which were decided in the late stages of the
third period or overtime.

It may have been a sweep, but it wasn’t

The Sharks played at times like a team scared of losing. The
Blackhawks played like a team that knew they were going to win.

Antti Niemi, it’s validation that the Blackhawks made the right
decision heading into the postseason as he proved in this series just
how great he can really be. There were times of trepidation in Game 4 as
Niemi looked to have reverted to the shaky goaltending of the regular
season. The team in front of him picked it up instead, limiting the
Sharks to just three shots on goal in the third period. Overall, it was a
magical series for Niemi as he was by far the most important player on
the ice for the Blackhawks against the Sharks.

For all the Patrick
Kane’s, Patrick Sharp’s, Marian Hossa’s and Duncan Ketih’s this team
may have, there has been none more surprising than that of Dustin
Byfuglien. He has scored in five straight games for the Hawks, while
netting the game-winning goal in three of the four games. Not
coincidentally, those three game-winning goals came in the games that
were decided by just one goal and were the tightest contested of all.

Chicago Blackhawks of 2010 are a complete team, that just just one
question mark heading into the postseason. With Antti Niemi stepping up,
the Blackhawks are firing on all cylinders and are boasting an
incredible amount of scoring depth. It should be no surprise they’ve
made it this far, and are entering the Stanley Cup finals young, hungry
and supremely confident.

You wonder if the Eastern Conference
champion will even stand a chance.

Even the Flames’ struggling power play capitalized against the Blackhawks’ struggling penalty kill

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The Calgary Flames had the league’s worst power play at just four per cent coming into Monday’s game against Chicago.

Yeah. Awful.

The Blackhawks had the league’s worst penalty kill at just 42.9 per cent, which is also awful, although their issues go deeper than that aspect.

So, of course special teams played an important role in this game. Despite their previous struggles with the advantage, the Flames scored twice on the power play, on goals from Sam Bennett and Sean Monahan, taking their turn capitalizing on Chicago’s early-season difficulties short handed.

The Flames finished two-for-five on the power play, giving them three power play goals in 30 opportunities so far. They jumped all the way to 27th in the league in that category (!!) at 10 per cent. The Blackhawks have given up 14 power play goals against on 26 chances.

“We’ve got to get that out of our game,” Jonathan Toews told CSN Chicago. “As I’ve been saying, the penalty kill usually translates from our effort 5-on-5 and if we’re not starting games well, then we’re getting behind. Obviously [we’re] giving up power plays to begin with and we’re not killing the penalty kills that we’re on. Unfortunate to get behind again tonight.”

This is not the company you’d expect the Blackhawks to be keeping.

The Blackhawks did come back to force overtime, but they ultimately lost 3-2 in the shootout.

Former Blackhawk Kris Versteeg scored the only goal in the deciding breakaway contest, giving Calgary the win.

While the Flames power play came alive for this game, the play of goalie Brian Elliott was significant.

He, too, had struggled mightily with three losses in three starts, and a .839 save percentage, prompting his former teammate Jake Allen to say Flames fans shouldn’t be worried about Elliott despite his dreadful start.

Against Chicago, Elliott made 31 saves on 33 shots and then made five saves in the seven-round shootout.

The Habs took a chance signing Radulov and (so far) they’ve been rewarded

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 20:  Alexander Radulov #47 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at the Bell Centre on October 20, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Arizona Coyotes 5-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadiens took a chance on Alexander Radulov.

The cost? One year at $5.75 million, which is a significant investment for a 30-year-old player with plenty of talent but past off-ice discipline issues. So far, Radulov has been a welcomed addition to a Habs lineup that needed a skilled forward capable of putting up good numbers and taking a top-six role.

The success — or lack of — for the Habs will always focus around the play and health of goalie Carey Price.

But Radulov is off to a nice start to the season, which should provide some optimism for Canadiens fans after a disappointing 2015-16 season and the tumultuous summer that followed.

He entered Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers with two points in five games, but had solid puck possession numbers. Against the Flyers, he was once again a central figure for the Habs on the attack.

And the production followed.

He had a three-point night, setting up Shea Weber‘s goal in the second period — Weber’s slap shot busted the stick of Brayden Schenn and still had enough to get by goalie Steve Mason — and Brendan Gallagher for the eventual winner late in the third period.

Radulov then secured the win with an empty-net goal, giving him five points in six games. The Habs, following their 3-1 win over the Flyers, remain the only team in the league without a regulation loss.

Radulov entered the season as a potential X-factor for the Habs.

General manager Marc Bergevin received plenty of criticism for trading P.K. Subban. But so far, the returns from signing Radulov have been promising for the Habs.

Video: Shea Weber scores with blistering slap shot that destroyed Schenn’s stick


In case you didn’t know by now, here is more evidence that Shea Weber possesses a devastating slap shot.

The Montreal Canadiens defenseman on Monday scored his second goal of the season, once again deploying his shot from the blue line. This time, he ripped a shot that busted the stick of Brayden Schenn, who was trying to get into the shooting lane, and still had enough behind it to beat Flyers’ goalie Steve Mason.

That gave the Habs the lead.

The Flyers responded later on in the second period on Jakub Voracek‘s third goal of the season.

Christian Ehrhoff signs with Kolner Haie in Germany

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27: Christian Ehrhoff #10 of Team Europe looks on against Team Canada during the second period during Game One of the World Cup of Hockey final series at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Christian Ehrhoff is finally under contract for this season, but not in the NHL.

Ehrhoff, 34, signed with Kolner Haie in Germany, the team announced via Twitter on Monday.

Most recently, Ehrhoff was with the Boston Bruins on a professional tryout (PTO) prior to the beginning of the season, but he opted not to sign with that club, instead deciding to return home to Germany.

Ehrhoff also suited up for Team Europe at this fall’s World Cup of Hockey.

In 789 NHL games, the puck-moving defenseman scored 74 goals and 339 points. His most productive seasons came with the Vancouver Canucks, as he helped that team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.