Tomorrow night the budding Chicago Blackhawks/San Jose Sharks rivalry gets its first 2010 incubation.
Both teams are looking to improve upon mediocre starts to the season, but the free agent acquisition of Antti Niemi by the San Jose Sharks could prove to be the bigger story of the night, as the Finnish goaltender will potentially face off against his former Stanley Cup-winning teammates for the first time.
The Sharks currently sit a bit prettier than the Hawks. Although San Jose has played four fewer games than the Hawks, the Hawks lead San Jose by a meager two points in the Western Conference (24 to 22). Unlike the Hawks, the Sharks have fared better at home than on the road; putting up a 6-3-2 record at home... which, ironically enough, matches the Hawks road record.
In the last ten games San Jose is 4-3-3, while the Hawks have posted a 4-5-1 record (although the Hawks have won two out of their last three decisively while on the road). All things considered, this once again looks like a very even matchup and should promise to be a thrilling game.
We will not for sure know until tomorrow, but one would think it safe to assume that the matchup will be Marty Turco vs Antti Niemi tomorrow night.
Turco is fresh off of four days of rest, and surely both he and Coach Q are eager for him to rebound from his last, nearly humiliating, performance. Furthermore, Antero Niittymaki, the primary goalie for San Jose thus far in the season, has lost his last two starts, and again, one would think, that head coach Todd McLellan and Niemi would both be eager to see what he can do against his old teammates.
Antti Niemi has picked up his play a bit since the last time I applied my diabolical magnifying glass to him just over two weeks ago [see Turco vs Niemi Round 1 and Round 2], improving his save percentage from .854 to .878 and dropping his goals-against average from 4.49 to 3.91. His record remains unimpressive at 2-4-1.
Turco, on the other hand, had his worst game of the season against Calgary last Friday, when he surrendered seven goals in a deflating Hawk loss. Still, Turco is besting Niemi thus far, posting a .906 save percentage and a 2.83 goals-against average while putting up a mediocre 8-6-2 record.
The Hawks seem to be finding some sort of groove on the road, aside from that pit-stop in Calgary, and if history has taught us anything, it is that the Hawks will show up in San Jose ready to put on a display of righteous Shark-spanking tomorrow night.
Aside from sweeping the Sharks in the spotlight of the Western Conference Finals last
season, let Hawk fans not forget that Marian Hossa's first goal while sporting the coveted Hawk-logo on his jersey was a breakaway shorthanded effort against these Sharks almost a year ago to the day: last November 25. The Hawks dominated the Sharks en route to a 7-2 victory, with Hossa finding the twine twice during that bout.
Just ten days earlier, Brent Seabrook lifted the Hawks past the Sharks with his overtime goal during their first meeting of 2009-10 in front of a boisterous United Center crowd. The Hawks beat the Sharks 4-3, again in overtime, later on during last season, this time in San Jose. After allowing a 3-0 first period lead to slip away, Troy Brouwer posted the game-winning goal less than two minutes into OT, giving him two in the game.
All-in-all, the Hawks were 3-1 during the regular season against the Sharks last year, and an astounding 7-1 counting the playoffs. Going back to the 2008-09 season, the Hawks were 2-2 against San Jose. After losing to the Sharks 6-5 and 3-2 in overtime early in the season, the Hawks avenged themselves defeating the Sharks 4-2 in San Jose and 6-5 in a shootout at home.
Going 9-3 over the past two years against, supposedly, one of the best teams in the Western Conference is not too shabby. What we are guaranteed is that this will be one hell of a game. Aside from the Hawks' 4-2 win in January of '09 and the Hossa Game (the 7-2 bashing in November of last year), every regular season game between the Hawks and the Sharks has been decided by one goal. You simply cannot ask for better hockey entertainment than that.
Hereby I guarantee you either a thrilling one-goal game that goes down to the wire, or another good 'ol fashioned Shark-skewering compliments of Hossa and Co. The added drama of the potential Turco vs Niemi matchup only adds to the excitement of this sure-to-be-great game.
All things considered though, I expect the Hawks to display their fine ability to play well on the road once again tomorrow, and I predict those committed to the Indian shall prevail decisively in a 5-2 win. Enjoy Chicago; for every reason thus discussed, I think this is the best rivalry- outside of that with the Red Wings- that the Hawks have.