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

May 23, 2010, 6:30 PM EDT

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
easy.

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

For
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.

The
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.

  1. Little Tommy - May 23, 2010 at 7:48 PM

    Thank you for recognizing what kept the Hawks down all those years! POOR OWNERSHIP AND POOR MANAGEMENT!
    Chicago fans have always been there for their teams! Hopefully, the Chicago Bears can take a few pages from the Blackhawks playbook. Enlightened ownership complemented by capable management can work wonders. The Blackhawks have figured it out…the Bears…that’s another story!

  2. grimjack - May 23, 2010 at 9:09 PM

    “You wonder if the Eastern Conference champion will even stand a chance.”
    Really? Have you even bothered to watch any of the games? In case you haven’t noticed, the Flyers have won 3 of 4 games with shutouts. Against a Canadians team that beat both the Caps and Penguins. You may have already heard about what they did in the series before that. You know, the down 3-0, down 3-0 in game 7. History. Have you seen how the Flyers defense is playing? 3 games with ZERO goals.
    Let’s look at the flip side. Montreal is down 3-1. Which means they have the Flyers right where they want them. Imagine if the Candians manage to win another come from behind 7 game series? (They won’t, but just imagine). Would Chicago stand a chance against them. Chicago may believe they are going to win the cup, but the Flyers believe they can’t lose. One of them must be wrong.
    If Chicago loses game 1 at home, the series is over.

  3. Caleb - May 24, 2010 at 4:32 AM

    “If Chicago loses game 1 at home, the series is over.”
    Really? The Hawks have lost 2 game 1s this postseason; can’t really say that stopped them. They’ve beaten a team with a very similar defense in Nashville, and I’m sorry but Montreal isn’t a good offensive team, on honestly that good of a team period. Neither the Caps or the Pens have much defense to speak of, not to mention the Caps beat themselves and the Pens basically ran out of gas, and Halak is finally no longer standing on his head. All credit is due to Leighton but he’s shown he can get beat and beat badly, not to mention he faced 8 shots through TWO PERIODS in game 4, just 17 for the entire game. Saying the Eastern Conference champion doesn’t have a chance is by far an oversight, no doubt about it, but you can’t compare what the Flyers are doing to the Habs to facing the Hawks, or even the Sharks for that matter had a couple of their games turned out differently.
    Simply put, put either the Habs or the Flyers in the Western Conference and they’re sitting at home right now after finishing tied for 12th place, missing the playoffs by 7 points. Just by the Eastern Finals having the 7th and 8th seeds shows the weakness of the Conference as a whole.
    Does the winner have a chance? Absolutely. Do they know what they’ll be up against? That’s another story.
    The drought should be over: Hawks in 5.

  4. Gravypan - May 24, 2010 at 9:22 AM

    “If Chicago loses game 1 at home, the series is over. ”
    A 7 game road winning streak suggests otherwise.
    And like the poster above me said, Philly isn’t exactly playing an offensive juggernaut in Montreal.

  5. jason - May 24, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    Seriously? The Hawks tied a playoff record for wins on the road with 7 straight. They have lost 2 game 1’s at home this playoff run. Philly hasn’t even seen a team close to as hot as the Hawks are right now. They are peaking at the right time and everything is coming together perfectly. Yeah Philly’s goalie has 3 shutouts in 3 wins this series, but that’s against a 8th seeded Montreal team that doesn’t even compare to the Hawks.

  6. Jen - May 24, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    I am a Chicago girl, but a hockey fan. If it is the Hawks vs Philly or Montreal, it doesn’t matter.. it will be a fantastic series for the Stanley Cup. It is great to see some ‘not so familiar’ faces in the running for it this year! :) The best team will win.. and neither of the teams will give up!
    Hockey is one of the few games where talent, luck and a whole lotta heart come in to play and determination to win. Good luck to both teams – may the best one win!!
    Go Hawks!! :)

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