"it might be Buff (Dustin Byfuglien) ... could prove to be the deciding factor in this series."
- Brandon Bibb's thoughts about a week ago before the start of San Jose / Chicago
San Jose: 2 - Chicago: 3 (OT) (Blackhawks Lead Series 3-0)
Buff was just starting to hit his playoff stride in the previous series against the Vancouver Canucks, but now he's completely in "on fire mode" as he did indeed prove to be the difference tonight as the Hawks get one step closer to a Stanley Cup final berth.
I'm not going to sit here and say that the Sharks are choking. Only four teams out of 30 get to make it this far and even if you get swept in the third round, it can't be considered a choke job. And it's not like the Sharks are being grossly outplayed. San Jose is matching the Hawks in terms of physical play, they are taking care of the puck as well as the Hawks are. They are outshooting the Hawks and have every single game so far. It's simply a case of the Hawks are just a little bit better in every facet of the game than the Sharks from goaltending on out.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, the two guys most often maligned for their post season play in the past have been playing very well, but it's Byfuglien and Jonathan Toews that have been even better. Rob Blake, Marc-Edward Vlasic and Dan Boyle have all been good, but have yet to match what Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell and Brent Seabrook have been able to bring for the other side.
It's Antti Niemi who has made every key save required of him while Evgeni Nabokov hasn't. To me, that's what this series comes down to and why it's 3-0 for the Hawks right now. And while I say that, understand that I'm not saying Nabby has been poor.. he just hasn't been as good as his goaltending counterpart and I gotta imagine that when the Sharks do bow out - perhaps as early as Sunday afternoon although I still just can't see the Sharks getting swept - it'll be their goaltending that will get a serious look in the summer as Nabby will have suffered though a third straight season - Marty Turco in 08, Jonas Hiller in 09 and Niemi this season - where he was outplayed by a goalie that isn't even close to consideration as a clutch playoff performer.
Now Sharks fans - the most diehard ones anyway - will gladly point to the second round and the 0-3 comeback that the Flyers had pulled off and try to suggest history could happen again (remember how the Sharks fans did that to us Stars fans in '08 when their team was down 1-3? Yeah, that is still annoying when I think of it.)
Could it happen? I suppose. Will it? No. We went 36 years between 0-3 comebacks, it's not going to happen again in a matter of weeks. This series is over.
The only two questions that remain is what game exactly does it end, and will Toews avoid the Clarance Campbell Bowl trophy and continue that silly little superstition?