Chicago Blackhawks right wing Dustin Byfuglien celebrates after scoring against the San Jose Sharks during the first period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
SAN JOSE, Calif. - The Chicago Blackhawks finished the game the way they started it, overwhelming the San Jose Sharks in a matchup between the NHL's top two teams.
Troy Brouwer scored his second goal of the game 1:37 into overtime and the Blackhawks fought back after blowing a three-goal lead to beat San Jose 4-3 Thursday night in a possible playoff preview.
"It was a real big game," Brouwer said. "We wanted first place and to get first place you have to beat these guys. We had a great start, had a hiccup in the middle of the game, but we were able to keep our composure and pull together at the end."
Brouwer scored one of three first-period goals for Chicago, which took a 3-0 lead before the midway point of the frame but needed overtime to beat the Sharks for the third time in four meetings.
The Sharks managed to stay one point ahead of Chicago for the most points in the NHL. This was the final regular-season matchup between the teams. If the standings remain this way, the next time the teams could meet would be in the Western Conference final.
"For us to beat them in the playoffs we're going to have to beat them here," Brouwer said. "It gives us a little bit of confidence if we have to face them in the playoffs."
This game had the intensity of a playoff matchup, especially in the third period when San Jose tied the game and then fought off a late charge from Chicago to force overtime.
Brouwer ended it there, as he faked a shot after skating into the offensive zone, moved to the middle and beat Evgeni Nabokov with a wrist shot.
"We found a way to empty the tank in the third there and found that energy that we needed to finish the game," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "We were just looking for one break and we had a couple of good chances on that power play. It was a great shot by Brouwer. We were just waiting for that break to go in."
Nabokov had stopped 32 straight shots since the early three-goal barrage, turning aside numerous flurries in front in the third period. He also helped kill off a late power play that went into the opening minute of overtime.
Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd also scored for the Blackhawks, who have won four straight games in San Jose. Cristobal Huet made 34 saves.
"It was a great test for us," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It had the playoff atmosphere going here in the building."
Joe Pavelski scored the first two goals for San Jose and Manny Malhotra tied it when he tipped in Rob Blake's shot from the point less than five minutes into the third period. San Jose had its five-game winning streak snapped.
"We're all going to talk about how hard we fought and we worked our way back into the game but that start was unacceptable," coach Todd McLellan said. "The mistakes we made the first five minutes of the game, that's not a characteristic of ours and is unacceptable. Yeah we fought back and we are proud of that but you're not going to win many games against good teams in this league with that kind of start."
The Blackhawks took control early by scoring three goals in a span of 3:21 in the first period. It was reminiscent of the teams' first meeting here when Chicago broke out to a 7-0 lead before allowing two-late goals. Chicago scored two goals before San Jose managed to put a shot on net, even though the Sharks had an early power play.
Byfuglien got it started when he one-timed a pass to the slot from Patrick Kane past Nabokov for the first goal. Just 48 seconds later, Joe Thornton lost the puck at centre ice to set up a goal by Brouwer. That prompted Sharks coach Todd McLellan to call his timeout but it did nothing to slow the Blackhawks.
Ladd knocked a rebound past Nabokov just over two minutes later to finish the quick barrage and give Chicago a 3-0 lead.
"The mistakes we made ended up in the back of our net," Sharks forward Patrick Marleau said. "They are very highly skilled. You make a mistake and they can capitalize on it."
NOTES: Dany Heatley's assist on Pavelski's second goal was the 600th point of his career. ... Former Sharks D Brian Campbell was booed almost every time he touched the puck for the Blackhawks. ... Chicago will finish an eight-game road trip Saturday at Carolina. ... San Francisco Giants slugger Pablo Sandoval, wearing a black Sharks jersey, dropped the ceremonial first puck. ... Chicago didn't score on its two power-play chances and finished the season 0-for-13 with the man advantage against San Jose.