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Blackhawks Wed May 19 2010

Hawks take 2 in Shark tank

A few quick thoughts on last night's game while I try and wake up (those 9 p.m. starts are rough on a working man), as well as highlights from Game 2 after the jump.

With the 4-2 win, the Blackhawks have now won 7 straight road games, tying an NHL record. For whatever reason, this team plays its best away from home, as they tend to focus on staying simple. Just look at last night. Shots on net, men in front for rebounds/deflections, defensive positioning and clearing pucks in their own end, and disciplined play give them a chance to win.

Antti Niemi is quickly becoming the antidote in net, fending off frenzied attacks in both first periods before his teammates took control of play as the games wore on. Niemi's making big saves when contested, and the defense in front of him is doing a good job of clearing out pucks and limiting chances.

Despite the 2-0 hole, the Sharks aren't playing that poorly, though Chicago dominated large stretches of Game 2 as San Jose got frustrated, and Evegeni Nabakov struggled in net. But a few bounces the opposite way, especially in Game 1, and the series could easily be tied. Credit again to Niemi and the D, and the Hawks forwards for getting sticks on pucks and converting opportunities.

Jonathon Toews picked up a goal and an assist last night, extending his point streak to 11 games, and is leading the NHL postseason stats race with 23 total points. Toews has raised his game on all levels and is the backbone of this franchise, and proving he's worth every penny. This is what leaders do, and Toews' will to win gives this team life.

Also, when did Dave Bolland become such a nightmare to play against? Joe Thornton has been visibly frustrated by Bolland's constant hounding, just as he threw the Sedin twins off their game last series. Though Bolland proved to be a strong two-way center last season, after missing a large chunk of the regular season, he's quickly becoming invaluable.

Dustin Byfuglien nothced another goal in front of the net on a pretty tip-in. He's been a monster since the Vancouver series, with goals in 3 straight games along with that hat trick, while being a constant irritation in front of the net. If he could play with that edge and motivation throughout the season, he'd be a force, but it's great that he's doing so now.

This team has been much better once Brian Campbell returned from his broken collarbone. Though Byfuglien did a notable job filling in on D, having two quick-skating defenseman in Campbell and Duncan Keith really opens up the Hawks game. Speaking of, Keith has had two strong games as well after struggling early on.

The two teams return to Chicago to face off at what figures to be a roaring United Center Friday at 7 p.m., with Game 4 scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m. If the Blackhawks can shake their home doldrums and play like they have on the road, San Jose will be facing a monumental uphill battle to get back in this series.

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