Most NHL teams can look at San Jose's 27-6-8 home-ice record during the regular season and 6-1 record during the postseason and feel a bit of intimidation. But not the Blackhawks, who twice this season ventured into the Shark Tank, and twice departed with victories. Overall, Chicago took three of four meetings from San Jose in a highly entertaining season series between two of the top-four scoring teams in the League.
During the regular season, the Blackhawks were third in goals for (262) and goals per game (3.20), while the Sharks placed fourth (257, 3.13). Combined, these teams were 56-14-12 on home ice.
In the playoffs, Chicago is 3-3 at home.
High-octane offenses and raucous home crowds have vaulted the Sharks and Blackhawks, the top two seeds, respectively, in the Western Conference into the NHL's elite. Now they will meet for a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, a place San Jose never has been, and the Blackhawks haven't reached since 1991-92.
Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith paced all scorers during the season series with 7 points, all on assists, in four games. Troy Brouwer and Marian Hossa each scored a team-high 3 goals, and nine different players scored Chicago's 17 goals.
Goaltender Cristobal Huet, who long ago gave way to Antti Niemi as Chicago's starting goalie, went 3-1-0 with a 2.75 goals-against average and .888 save percentage, stopping 87 of 98 shots in playing all 240 minutes.
The one negative for the Blackhawks against the Sharks was a punchless power play (0-for-13).
Joe Pavelski (3-2) and Dany Heatley (2-3) are atop San Jose's scoring leaders with 5 points each against Chicago. Rookie defenseman Jason Demers also was a force with 2 goals and 2 assists, and Joe Thornton chipped in a goal and 3 assists. The Sharks got 11 goals against the Blackhawks from seven different scorers. San Jose's power play went 3-for-18 (16.7 percent), with goals from Demers, Dan Boyle and Pavelski.
Evgeni Nabokov spent all but 20 minutes in goal for the Sharks, going 1-1-2 with a 3.80 GAA and .903 save percentage, stopping 131 of 145 shots. Backup Thomas Greiss made nine saves on 12 chances.
Though three of the four meetings were decided by one goal, one area the Blackhawks dominated was shots on goal, with a 157-98 advantage.
San Jose and Chicago never have previously met in the postseason.
Nov. 15: Blackhawks 4, Sharks 3, OT at Chicago
Defense - CHI
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 6 | PTS: 8
SOG: 18 | +/-: 5
Trailing 3-1 early in the second period, the Blackhawks got goals from Patrick Kane and John Madden to tie the score 3-3 after 40 minutes.
Defenseman Brent Sopel gave Chicago a 1-0 lead at 4:08 of the first period. Heatley tied the score before the end of the period, and Demers (first NHL goal) and Patrick Marleau scored goals in the first two minutes of the second period for a 3-1 Sharks lead.
"We were able to take the game over for a little while," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We just didn't have enough in the end. They're a good hockey club and that's what good teams do."
Huet made 20 saves for the win, and Nabokov stopped 26 shots.
Nov. 25: Blackhawks 7, Sharks 2, at San Jose
After earning a dramatic win 10 days earlier, the Blackhawks turned the second meeting with the Sharks into a cakewalk, scoring the first seven goals of the game. Going back to Nov. 15, Chicago scored 10 unanswered goals against San Jose.
Hossa scored twice in his season debut and first game for Chicago, and Brouwer, Patrick Sharp, Dustin Byfuglien, Seabrook and Madden added goals. Keith earned 3 assists, and Huet made 22 saves.
"It was nice for (Hossa) to come in and have a meaningful game," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was a good start to his Blackhawks career. I'll be interested in seeing how his line works out from here."
Chicago's first three goals -- by Brouwer, Hossa and Sharp -- were shorthanded, tying a single-game franchise record. The Blackhawks outshot the Sharks, 41-24.
Boyle and Pavelski scored for San Jose, which lost in regulation for the first time in 10 home games. The Sharks were the last NHL team to lose in regulation on home ice.
"You give up three shorties in one night, you're not winning," McLellan said.
Dec. 22: Sharks 3, Blackhawks 2, at Chicago
Goalie - SJS
GAA: 2.43 | SVP: 0.907
Chicago outshot the Sharks, 47-14, but 45 saves from Nabokov and goals by Heatley, Thornton and Demers carried San Jose to its first win of the season series.
"We didn't have many chances, so we were lucky to create enough to win the game," McLellan said. "Certainly when you look at it in the big picture, we didn't play near well-enough.
"We basically robbed one here tonight, and we can chalk that one up to Nabby."
Heatley and Thornton (shorthanded) gave San Jose a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes. Kane answered at 4:10 of the third period for Chicago to cut the lead in half, but Demers restored the two-goal lead 20 seconds after Kane scored. It would prove to be the game-winner when Hossa scored with 1:51 remaining in the third period.
With the win, the Sharks passed Chicago for first place in the Western Conference.
Jan. 28: Blackhawks 4, Sharks 3, OT, at San Jose
Brouwer's second goal of the game, at 1:37 of overtime, bailed out the Blackhawks, who blew a 3-0 first period lead.
Brouwer, Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd gave Chicago a 3-0 cushion in the first 8:23 of the first period. Pavelski scored before the end of the first, and he scored again, on the power play, late in the second period. San Jose's Manny Malhotra completed the comeback at 4:56 of the third period.
"Toward the end of the third period, we were getting chances and we got some momentum," Brouwer said. "We really felt like we were going to win that game going into overtime."
"We worked so hard -- we battled on the forecheck," Pavelski said. "Once we tied it up, we kind of sat back. We should have continued on."
Huet made a season-high 34 saves, and Nabokov turned aside 35 shots.
The win enabled the Blackhawks to win the season series outright against the Sharks for the first time since 2002-03. Chicago won both road games at HP Pavilion, the first time it won multiple games in San Jose since 1995-96.
Contact Rocky Bonanno at email@example.com