Blackhawks blast Sharks, tie for NHL's top point total

Jerry Bonkowski, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- It is not every day that the Sharks look more like slugs, but the Chicago Blackhawks kept San Jose in check Sunday in a 5-1 win at the United Center.
While the Blackhawks (14-3-4) now embark on a seven-game roadtrip, having won eight of their last 10 games, the Sharks (13-3-5) head back to San Jose to start a five-game homestand. Chicago (32 points) passed San Jose (31 points) as the Blackhawks moved into a tie with the Anaheim Ducks for the top point total in the NHL.
San Jose's record is somewhat deceiving: Even though the Sharks went 3-1-1 on their just-completed five-game road trip, they have lost six of their past nine games, including four in overtime.
"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, that if (Chicago's defensemen) get to move the puck up-ice with their eyes up instead of turning, their counterpunch is incredible," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We learned that lesson again. We didn't want to hear it or we didn't want to listen to it or we didn't want to buy into it. I don't know what it was, but we certainly played into their hand."
Getting embarrassed in a 7-2 loss to the Predators at Nashville on Saturday night helped inspire the Blackhawks, too.
"I thought it was a pretty solid, nice bounce-back after a tough night," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're pleased. Last night wasn't indicative of how we played any game all year."
Left wing Patrick Sharp was the star for the Blackhawks with two goals, including one on a penalty shot late in the third period after being hooked from behind by San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Sharp also had an assist.
Also scoring for Chicago were rookie center Brandon Pirri, team captain and center Jonathan Toews and recently reacquired right winger Kris Versteeg.
Chicago finally broke the scoreless deadlock at 16:34 of the first period on Pirri's goal past San Jose goalie Antti Niemi, a former Blackhawk. It was Pirri's third goal in as many games, his sixth of the season.
Forward Patrick Kane assisted on the goal to extend his point-scoring streak to seven games (four goals, six assists). Kane leads the Blackhawks with 21 points this season (11 goals, 10 assists).
Versteeg, reacquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning after Thursday's game, picked up his second assist in as many games. Following the second period, the Blackhawks had a video tribute to Versteeg, with the theme being "Welcome Back" (from singer John Sebastian).
"It was emotional coming back, and last night (the loss against the Predators) definitely wasn't the way I saw coming back in my head, but tonight was very exciting," Versteeg said. "The guys put in a big effort and obviously we have to keep that going into the big road trip. Tonight was special. Best fans in the world here, so it was exciting."
San Jose center Joe Pavelski scored his eighth of the season at 8:16 of the second period to tie the score at 1, but Chicago regained the lead four minutes later on Sharp's sixth goal of the season.
The Blackhawks went ahead 3-1 at 3:39 of the third period on a wrist shot by Toews (No. 10). Versteeg then got his first goal back in a Blackhawks uniform and third of the season at 15:10.
Sharp was awarded and scored on a penalty shot at 18:49 to wrap up Chicago's scoring.
Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford stopped 23 of San Jose's 24 shots, while Niemi turned away 22 of Chicago's 27 shots.
San Jose's top scorer, center Joe Thornton, was uncharacteristically silent in the game.
"(The Blackhawks) just have such a good transition game," Thornton said. "Early on, I thought we did a good job, but later in the game, just too many turnovers. Their D can zip it up real quick to their skilled forwards. They can make you pay. They're a good team."
Was there anything positive Thornton can take away from Sunday's loss?
"It's a long trip and we're going to be glad to get home," he said.
NOTES: The Blackhawks placed veteran G Nikolai Khabibulin on long-term injured reserve after he suffered a lower-body injury in Saturday's game at Nashville. Chicago recalled G Antti Raanta from AHL Rockford. A native of Rauma, Finland, Raanta, 24, is 7-5-0 with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 14 appearances this season with Rockford. He was in uniform for his first NHL game Sunday night but did not see action. Raanta likely will get his first NHL start on the upcoming road trip. ... Attendance was 21,434. ... Blackhawks RW Marian Hossa missed his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury. ... Chicago plays its next seven games on the road, all against Western Conference opponents, and does not return to the Windy City until Dec. 3 (vs. the Dallas Stars). It will be the first of two seven-game road trips the Blackhawks play this season, the longest stretches away from their United Center home. ... San Jose plays host to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

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