Niemi magnificent in Hawks' Game 1 win

I love going to games and everything, but can the Hawks play all of their playoff games on the road from now on?

The Blackhawks continued their dominance away from the United Center, winning their sixth consecutive road game dating back to Game 4 against Nashville. Patrick Sharp and Dustin Byfuglien got the Hawks' goals in the 2-1 win.
The story in this one was Antti Niemi. I wrote before the series about Niemi's lack of experience against San Jose potentially being a factor. #31 put those concerns at ease in Game 1, turning away 44 of the Sharks' 45 shots.
Niemi 3.jpg

Antti Niemi continued to prove the doubters wrong in Game 1. 

A good amount of those shots were quality scoring chances that required a big-time save from the Hawks' netminder. Niemi's save in the 2nd period was the save of the year for either Hawks' goaltender. The puck was inches from crossing the line before Niemi reached back and snagged it with the glove.
The Sharks played a very solid game, and were only really outplayed in the 3rd period. They had many chances that "weren't capitalized on", as Sharks coach Todd McLellan put it. No disrespect to the Sharks coach, but it looked more to me like his team did all the right things and were simply denied by a dominant goaltender. 
One thing is certain: The Hawks can't expect to win this series by giving up 45 shots a game. Niemi is great, and he played probably the best game of his career in Game 1, but it is unfair to expect that every night. 
Our old friend Paul Devorski, the guy who only gave James Wisniewski a two minute penalty for his barbaric hit on Brent Seabrook back in March, came through as usual. He gave the Hawks five penalties without calling a single one on San Jose. The officiating crew also sent the wrong guy (Versteeg) to the penalty box at the end of the 3rd period while the guilty player (Bolland) stayed on the ice. In that case, it may have helped the Hawks because of Bolland's penalty killing abilities. Regardless, I look forward to someone besides Devorski officiating other games in this series. 
Not only did the Hawks steal home ice by winning Game 1, but they withstood the Sharks' best effort. The Sharks gave their top forwards heavy minutes in the game. Thornton, Heatley, Marleau, Pavelski, and Clowe all played at least 22 minutes while every Chicago forward played less than 20. In terms of coaching, chalk this one up as a win for Joel Quenneville.
This could still be a long series, but consider me extremely confident after Game 1. The Sharks threw everything they had at the Hawks, including 45 shots and heavy minutes for their top guns. The Sharks even had five power play opportunities to capture momentum from compared to none for the Hawks. It didn't work. The Hawks now have home ice advantage, confidence, and more rested legs according to the ice time statistics.
Still, the Hawks need to keep their foot on the gas pedal. In the first round, the Avalanche were less than a minute away from going up 2-0 in the series on San Jose, and the Sharks ended up winning that game and winning the series 4-2. I bet the Avs are wishing they had found a little extra will power in that final 30 seconds of Game 2, huh?
The Hawks can't look back feeling the same way. If you don't bury this team, they will hurt you. The "playoff curse" that existed in San Jose is gone. This is a very good Sharks team and the Hawks can't feel satisfied....yet.
-JT  
Follow me on Twitter @JTalarico328 for Hawks thoughts, news and updates.

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