Both San Jose and Chicago were coming off an extended period of rest entering the opening game of the 2010 NHL Western Conference Finals. With neither team showing signs of rust, the Blackhawks were able to get the best of the Sharks to take a 1-0 series lead.

Behind 44 saves from Chicago goalie Antti Niemi, the Blackhawks held on in a defensive battle, 2-1, as the top-two seeds in the conference playoffs collide to play for a 2010 Stanley Cup berth.

“He’s been good for us all year,” remarked Blackhawk forward Kris Versteeg in a psot-game interview. “Everyone seemed to be doubting him except us. We’re confident in him. We have to give him a lot more help than we did tonight.”

Niemi was a force to be reckoned with in goal for Chicago. Of the five power-play opportunities that San Jose received, they were only able to capitalize on one. One of those power-play advantages was a 6-on-4, in which no goal was scored.

This is the first time in their last four playoff series that the Blackhawks have won the opening game.

Game 2 will take place in San Jose on Tuesday, as Chicago continues their tear on the road, now tabbing a combined 6-1 record in the 2010 NHL playoffs.

“It’s something we really wanted to establish this series,” remarked Blackhawk member Brent Seabrook after the game. “We wanted to come out hard and get the first win of the series and try to play from ahead for a change.”

On the other side of the ice, the only goal scored by San Jose was from Jason Demers. Every other shot that the Sharks came at Niemi with was rejected.

“There was some times we thought it was going in, but he did a good job,” said San Jose forward Joe Pavelski following the Game 1 defeat. “He’s going to stop it for the most part. We just have to the shots coming.”

The game was knotted at 1-1 in the final period before the Blackhawks added the game-winner on the stick of Byfuglien, who was able to it it by Shark goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

“I feel like I’m at the top of my game right now,” Byfuglien remarked after the game. “I think there’s improvements to be made. Just got to keep working and just getting in front, you know, getting dirty.”

Chicago has now scored a total of 42 goals this post-season, with San Jose tabbing 35.  While the Sharks have surrendered less goals, their offensive production has been an Achilles heal during their losses.

Either team that comes out of this Western Conference Finals battle will be the betting favorite to win the Stanley Cup series. Currently, Online Sportsbooks have installed the Blackhawks as the overall betting favorite, with San Jose falling just behind.  Their Eastern Conference counterparts in Philadelphia and Montreal fall behind.


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