On this date in Blackhawks history: Antti Niemi makes career-high 44 saves in Chicago’s 2-1 win vs. Sharks

The Blackhawks killed four of five power plays in the opening game of the 2010 Western Conference Final.

With the NHL on pause and the World Championship tournament canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Second City Hockey will look back at Blackhawks playoff games since 2010 with an “On this date in Blackhawks history” series.

The Blackhawks are back in the Western Conference Final for a second straight year.

A few years ago, fans could only dream of the team making the playoffs let alone being one playoff series win away from being in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1992. But the 2010 Blackhawks are expected to be in the Western Conference Final and take the next step to the Cup Final. After all, they did sign five-time All-Star Marian Hossa along with veterans John Madden and Tomas Kopecky, both of whom have already won the Cup.

But there was one big question for the team heading into the playoffs: could Antti Niemi step up? He answered the question with a career-high 44 saves — all 13 high-danger chances — and Dustin Byfuglien scored the tiebreaking goal with 6:45 remaining in the third period to help Chicago defeat the Sharks 2-1 in the 2010 Western Conference Final series opener at HP Pavillon in San Jose.

Jonathan Toews won an offensive zone faceoff against Joe Thornton, and Patrick Kane got the puck off the boards to Byfuglien. The big-bodied Byfuglien snapped a wrist shot from the slot for a 2-1 lead at 13:15 of the third period.

Niemi made several saves late during some mad scrambles in front of his net. With Nabokov pulled, the Sharks had aa 6-on-4 advantage but Chicago held on for the win.

Niemi stopped all but one shot in his first career game against the Sharks, helping Chicago kill four of five power plays. The Blackhawks had four straight series-opening losses.

Patrick Sharp also scored for the Blackhawks, who continued their dominance on the road and improved to 6-1 this postseason.

Rookie Jason Demers scored San Jose’s lone goal on the power play, and Evgeni Nabokov made 38 saves — all nine high-danger chances.

The Blackhawks and Sharks ranked third and fourth, respectively, in goals per game before the playoffs and were the top two seeds in the West. Both teams showed their speed and offensive skills throughout the game, but Niemi and Nabokov were up to the task.

Demers made it 1-0 San Jose at 11:19 of the first period with a shot from the top of the right face-off circle deflected off Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith and beat Niemi on his stick side.

Toews had Chicago’s best opportunity to tie it in the first with 1:40 remaining when his shot from the slot hit the post.

Niemi continued to keep the Blackhawks in the game in the second period with save after save, including a stellar glove save on Patrick Marleau at 5:23.

Sharp then scored the tying goal at 7:44 in the second through a Troy Brouwer screen on a 3-on-2 break to beat Nabokov.

Niemi made the play of the game with 4:15 to go in the second with a sprawling save to rob Ryane Clowe at the side of the net on a power play.