Byfuglien's OT goal puts Sharks on the brink

(05-21) 21:18 PDT Chicago - -- Dustin Byfuglien is everywhere. So is Patrick Marleau, but Byfuglien is a little more everywhere.

Byfuglien's score at 12:24 of overtime gave Chicago a 3-2 win in Friday's third game of the Western Conference finals, and sent the Hawks to a potential sweep of the series here Sunday.

The kill shot was surely going to be Dave Bolland's breakaway goal at 13:05. Dan Boyle's drive from the right point was blocked by Chicago's new Stan Mikita, Jonathan Toews, and that block went directly to Bolland, who was just leaving the penalty box and needed only to outspring Douglas Murray and deke Evgeni Nabokov to slip the puck between Nabokov's left pad and the goalpost at 13:05.

But Marleau, the team piƱata for so long in this postseason, tied the game 2 1/2 minutes later by following up a Dany Heatley rebound of a Boyle shot for his fourth goal of the series (and fourth of San Jose's five to that point in the series).

As a result, the Sharks' projected expulsion from this series would come much tougher than the Blackhawks would have hoped. Whether through desperation or by simply playing better, the Sharks would leave an imprint.

Todd McLellan's master plan for changing their grisly mojo was to turn four set lines into Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton surrounded by as many new mates as he could manage. That stratagem, which he normally reserves for games in which the Sharks are playing badly and need some change for change's sake, didn't result in a flurry of goals, but it did neutralize the impression that Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was line-matching him to distraction.

All the game-within-the-game stuff, though, wasn't as useful as the tried-and-true five-on-three power play, which is how the Sharks took their first lead of the series. With Bolland, Thornton's bete noire in Games 1 and 2, in the box for holding Pavelski and then Marian Hossa joining him for hooking Pavelski, Marleau roofed a rebound of a Pavelski shot (my, but he was a busy chap, wasn't he?) at 3:58 of the second period to put San Jose ahead, 1-0.

That lead, though, lasted only long enough for Logan Couture to go off for slashing Chicago goalie Antti Niemi at 5:53. With the magic of an extended stay in the San Jose zone, Patrick Kane found Jonathan Toews along the goal line to the right of Nabokov, and Toews lasered a pass across the face of the goal to Patrick Sharp, who one-timed the freebie to tie the game at 6:59.

Other than McLellan running through his different line combinations like a bingo caller on angel dust, the most noteworthy development was Nabokov's seeming lack of sureness in goal. Though he wasn't punished for it, he appeared to have trouble picking up shots, and for gathering them in and holding them safely once they struck him. On more than a few occasions, he had to turn around to see if the puck had gotten behind him, but when it had, his defensemen were quick to clear the area before damage to more than their psyches was done.

That, though, passed in the third, as the Sharks slowly but surely started to take the play more consistently to the Hawks, which resulted, bizarrely, in the Bolland goal and surely did on the Marleau goal. The 18-6 shot advantage was part of the evidence, but the way they caused the Hawks to take too-slow penalties (a hold, two hooks and two trips) indicated that they really were working smarter, as Boyle had challenged them all to do through the media.

The Hawks have now committed 14 penalties to San Jose's nine in the series (11-2 in Games 1 and 3), and though this mostly means that Quenneville won't be fishing this summer with referee Dan O'Rourke, it also suggests that the Sharks did a better job on 50-50 battles than they did in Games 1 or 2.

But that, too, is game-within-the-game stuff, and sometimes the game needs to be boiled down to its essence - namely, who scores when it matters most.

And Friday, that someone was Dustin Byfuglien. Of course Dustin Byfuglien. Source:

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