Strength and skill. The Chicago Blackhawks displayed both qualities in abundance in Tuesday's 4-2 win in San Jose.
Their record-tying seventh straight road victory of the playoffs gave Chicago an intimidating 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference final, which moves to the City of Broad Shoulders for Games 3 and 4 starting Friday.
The Blackhawks are the fifth team to win seven consecutive road games in a post-season, joining Colorado (1999), New Jersey (1995), and the New York Islanders (1980 and '82), according to STATS LLC.
"The way we've been playing on the road, it just seems like everything has gone right for us," said forward Patrick Kane, who had two assists. "Sometimes you get on the road, it's just a simpler attitude. We've had a lot of fun with bonding in the hotel and different things. Sometimes you do that, it's almost like you're clicking before you're even on the ice."
Chicago flaunted its array of talents in building a 3-0 advantage in Game 2. Andrew Ladd scored with a highlight-reel shot in the first period, Dustin Byfuglien used his brute strength and soft hands to tip one home in the second, and playoff points leader Jonathan Toews added a quick power-play tally to put the Sharks on the mat before they knew what hit them.
San Jose's Patrick Marleau scored his own power-play goal shortly after that and added another goal late in the third period. But by that time, another Chicago tip-in — this one by Troy Brouwer earlier in the final period — had all but quashed any notions of a comeback.
Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi stopped 25 shots on the heels of his stellar 44-save effort in Game 1. The up-and-down rookie looks, for the moment, like a guy who can backstop second-seeded Chicago to its first Stanley Cup since the Kennedy administration.
Evgeni Nabokov saved 18 of the 22 shots he faced for the top-seeded Sharks, who must win four of the next five games to avoid another disappointing playoff exit.
"The good news is that everybody thinks we're done," defenceman Dan Boyle said. "We're going to go to Chicago and try to disappoint everybody. I'm not quitting and no one else in this room is going to quit. You can throw the stats out the window. I don't care. The task is going to be absolutely very difficult. It can be done and it will be done."
Nabokov not happy
Ladd opened the scoring with about seven minutes left in the first period. Carrying the puck into Sharks territory, the winger dragged the puck toward his body and snapped a wicked shot past defenceman Niclas Wallin and into the top-right corner of the net.
It was the second goal of the playoffs for Ladd, a 17-goal man in the regular season.
Chicago's persistence led to the next goal, which came seven minutes into the second. Byfuglien thought he had jammed the puck past Nabokov, but the referee decided (and replays confirmed) that the Sharks goalie kept the puck from crossing the goal line.
Play continued, and Kane wound his way into the high slot and flicked a shot at the net that Byfuglien tipped ever so slightly. Nabokov, thoroughly screened by the big forward, had no idea he was beaten until the puck was rattling around in the net behind him.
Ninety seconds later, Toews deflected a Duncan Keith shot home on the power play, and it was 3-0.
San Jose returned the favour less than thee minutes later after the refs missed a high-sticking foul by the Sharks' Joe Thornton behind the Chicago net. Instead, the man he clipped on the head, David Bolland, seized onto Dany Heatley's stick and was sent off for holding. Marleau capitalized, zipping a wrist shot past Niemi from low on the right wing.
Brouwer delivered the back-breaker 6:18 into the third. Nabokov came way out of his net to handle a point shot by non-threatening defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Brouwer got a piece of it while bothering the Sharks goalie.
Nabokov tried to argue that Brouwer had bumped him on the stick side, where the shot beat him, but to no avail.
Marleau banged home a loose puck in the crease on a delayed penalty call with 4½ minutes left in the third. But by then it was probably too late for San Jose, and it was definitely too late after Rob Blake was whistled for holding Kane on a drive to the net with 2:06 left, putting the Sharks a man down for pretty much the rest of the game.
Thornton took a silly penalty earlier in the third when he slashed Bolland while the two squared up for a faceoff in the Chicago end. The normally docile centre was livid with the call.
"They're just getting frustrated and they can't take it," Bolland said.