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Blackhawks sweep Sharks to advance to Stanley Cup Final

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The Associated Press
5/23/2010 9:37:43 PM
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CHICAGO - The Blackhawks are in the Stanley Cup finals, thanks to another big goal by Big Buff.

Dustin Byfuglien scored his third go-ahead goal of the Western Conference final, converting on a third-period power play as Chicago rallied to beat the San Jose Sharks 4-2 and completed a four-game sweep Sunday that sent the Blackhawks to the finals for the first time since 1992.

Chicago will play either Montreal or Philadelphia and be in search of its first NHL title since 1961.

"It's an honour to be going to the Stanley Cup. We beat a very good team over there. It wasn't easy," Byfuglien said.

The 257-pound Byfuglien was parked in front of the net and took a nice pass from Patrick Kane and knocked the puck past goalie Evgeni Nabokov to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead at 14:05 of the final period.

"I got my stick open in front of the net and Kaner gave me a nice little feed," Byfuglien said.

Kris Versteeg added an empty-net goal with 42 seconds left, and the red-clad fans at the United Center erupted, littering the ice with souvenir towels.

"There's a level of frustration about the way we approached this whole series," San Joe defenceman Rob Blake said. "We put ourselves in a position to be successful throughout the season and we didn't accomplish what we needed to."

Byfuglien also had the winner Friday night in overtime as Chicago captured Game 3, 3-2. He also put the Blackhawks ahead to stay with a goal in their 2-1 victory in the opener and scored a goal in all four games. He has eight in this post-season.

Logan Couture scored in the first period for the regular-season Western Conference champion Sharks, and Patrick Marleau had a short-handed goal in the second as San Jose built 2-0 lead.

But Brent Seabrook was credited with a goal after a video replay reversed an initial on-ice ruling of no goal. Dave Bolland then tied the game at 2-2 at 18:38 of the second.

The Sharks had a chance to regain the lead a minute into the final period, but a shot from the high slot by Devin Setoguchi deflected off the stick of teammate Joe Thornton and hit the crossbar.

Chicago had a pair of power plays to work with in the final period, and Byfuglien converted.

On his tying goal, Bolland scrapped for the puck behind the net and gained control. After hesitating, he fired a wraparound shot that appeared to deflect off the stick of San Jose's Kent Huskins before it went past Nabokov.

It was the fifth goal of the playoffs and second in two games for Bolland, whose defence was a key throughout the series for Chicago.

Marleau scored the short-handed goal from the right circle at 7:35 of the second, shortly after the Sharks started a break when Marc-Edouard Vlasic blocked a shot by Kane. That put the Sharks in position to take control, but they couldn't maintain it.

After Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was called for cross-checking during a scramble at the net, leaving each team a man down, Seabrook took the puck toward the goal. As Marian Hossa battled to get control at the side, the puck slipped between Nabokov's legs.

San Jose coach Todd McLellan referred to the score as "a bit of a disputed goal."

"There's a rule that is in the league right now that if the referee has the intent to blow the whistle, it's dead. The problem with the rule, like a lot of 'em, is there's a lot of grey left in there. Nobody knows what the referee's thinking," McLellan said.

"I certainly respect the job that they do," he added. "Although his whistle was going toward his mouth, the intent wasn't there and we have to live with that. That's the way it goes."

It also gave the Blackhawks the momentum they had been looking for since the first period.

Couture converted a high rebound past goalie Antti Niemi after a shot by Setoguchi from the left boards was deflected, putting the Sharks up 1-0 at 11:08 of the first.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, had trouble getting anything going offensively and managed just one shot in the first 14 minutes.

But Chicago then peppered Nabokov with seven shots over the final three minutes. He responded with nice stops on Troy Brouwer, Kane and Versteeg.

Niemi made 16 saves for Chicago. Nabokov finished with 23.

NOTES: Couture's opening goal was the first for the Sharks by someone other than Marleau since Jason Demers scored in Game 1. Marleau's goal was his fifth of the series and eighth of the post-season. The Sharks had seven goals total in the series. ... Chicago D Duncan Keith was hit in the face during the rush that led to Marleau's goal, but he returned to the game minutes later. ... Chicago's Andrew Ladd played 2 minutes, 14 second in the first period but missed the rest of the game because of an apparent injury.

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