Dustin Byfuglien scored the tiebreaking goal with 6:45 remaining in regulation, Antti Niemi made 44 saves and the Chicago Blackhawks extended their road dominance in the playoffs with a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks in the opener of the Western Conference final on Sunday.
Patrick Sharp also scored for the Blackhawks, who improved to 6-1 on the road this postseason and snapped a streak of four straight losses in series openers.
The last two of those came at home in the first two rounds, but the Blackhawks opened this series where they feel most comfortable -- on the road.
Rookie Jason Demers scored the lone goal for San Jose, which fell to 0-4 at home all-time in two trips to the conference final.
Game 2 will be played Tuesday night in San Jose.
The matchup between the top two seeds in the Western Conference featured fast skating and numerous scoring chances but few goals as Niemi and Evgeni Nabokov were up to the task for most of the game.
With the score tied at 1 in the third period, the Blackhawks found a way to break through. Captain Jonathan Toews won an offensive zone faceoff from Joe Thornton and Patrick Kane got the puck off the boards to Byfuglien. The talk going into the series was about how the Sharks would contend with the 257-pound Byfuglien in front of the net. But he showed he can also be dangerous from further out.
Byfuglien beat Nabokov with wrist shot from the slot for his fifth goal of the postseason, giving Chicago its first lead of the night.
Niemi, the rookie goalie who was considered Chicago's weakness headed into the postseason, made the lead hole up by stopping a few late scrambles in front of his net. San Jose ended the game on a power play after Kris Versteeg was called for tripping Devin Setoguchi with 54.2 seconds to play.
With Nabokov pulled, the Sharks had a 6-on-4 advantage but were unable to convert on their fifth power play chance. Chicago didn't get a single chance with the man advantage.
Chicago got the tying goal midway through the second period when Sharp beat Nabokov with a tricky shot through a screen to cap a 3-on-2 break. The Blackhawks controlled the play for the first half of the period, but San Jose got the final 12 shots on net in the second.
But Niemi was up to the challenge in his first career appearance against the Sharks, making a spectacular sprawling save to rob Ryane Clowe at the side of the net on a power play late in the period.
The Sharks were greeted by a raucous towel-waving crowd that had been waiting six years for San Jose to be back in the conference final.
The Sharks showed few signs of early rust after having seven days off since beating Detroit in five games in the second round. They controlled the play early, drawing three first-period power plays and outshooting Chicago 13-8.
San Jose converted on its second man advantage when Patrick Marleau set up Demers with a nice feed. Demers' shot from the top of the circle deflected off Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith and beat Niemi high to the stick side for his first career playoff goal.
Chicago's best chance came late in the period when Toews' show from the slot hit the post.
NOTES: Chicago D Brian Campbell was booed each time he touched the puck, a regular occurrence since he left San Jose to sign as a free agent with the Blackhawks before last season. ... The Sharks dressed seven defensemen with Niclas Wallin getting the call for the third time this postseason after being slowed by a lower-body injury.