The Blackhawks, despite having the league’s most potent offense, were held in check for most of Sunday’s game. The Sharks limited Chicago’s transition opportunities and often forced their foe to shoot from range. San Jose was rewarded for its defensive effort with a 3-2 shootout win at the United Center.
Sunday’s result was much more to the liking of Sharks coach Todd McLellan than his team’s 5-1 loss to the Blackhawks in Chicago on Nov. 17.
“It was the best defensive effort we’ve had in this building in a while,” McLellan said. “We talked about it before the game. When you feed their transition, which is their biggest strength, you get yourself in a lot of trouble.
“It’s hard to demand perfection, but you have to demand as close as you can get to that. The players tonight gave us that. It was still a tough task. To score only two and win a game against Chicago, you’ve done something really well.”
It was the Sharks’ first victory in Chicago since Dec. 30, 2010.
The Sharks especially concentrated on not giving Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks’ top two goal scores, much space and keeping them away from high-percentage shooting areas. Sharp and Kane combined for 12 shots on goal, but Sharks goaltender Alex Stalock had an easy time with most of their chances.
Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg credited the Sharks’ defense for limiting Chicago’s chances. Versteeg had just one shot on goal.
“They’re a team that doesn’t like to give you much space with the puck,” Versteeg said. “They also like to hold the puck. They can come at you both ways.”
From Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford’s perspective, the Sharks were as good defensively as anyone Chicago has faced this season.
“It was a tough game,” said Crawford, who made 40 saves. “They played us pretty hard defensively. Probably the toughest game we’ve had to face a team playing defense. We were able to still come back. That’s what I like our team -- the character. We never give up. We always know we have a chance.”
The Blackhawks were goalless after two periods, but they did break free to post two goals in the first 4:01 of the third period. Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson moved up into the play to net the first goal, and Michal Rozsival scored the second with a shot from near the blue line. The Blackhawks couldn’t find a third goal, though, and the game eventually was decided in the shootout.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville thought the Sharks’ defense deserved credit for the way they played.
“They checked well,” Quenneville said. “They were very patient in their game. They got the lead and they were sitting back and getting things out of their end. They got inside and we were outside for most of the game. They played a good game.”