SAN JOSE -- Midway through the second period, the Sharks thought things were about to turn their way.
Andrew Desjardins had just leveled Chicago Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers with a jarring, shoulder-to-shoulder hit to start a string of events that should have put the Sharks on a four-minute power play. But instead of holding Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith accountable for going after Desjardins, the officials handed Desjardins a match penalty for what was deemed an illegal hit to the head.
The anticipated power play never materialized and San Jose went on to lose 5-3 to the Blackhawks on Tuesday in a battle between the NHL's top two teams that definitely lived up to its billing.
"It was a terrible call," coach Todd McLellan fumed afterward. "I don't know if we were going to be able to come back or not, but at that point we were still in the game and we had every opportunity to win and probably should have been on a four-minute power play. It was an awful call."
Less than an hour after the game ended, supervisor of officials Mick McGeough said the match penalty initially called by linesman Jonny Murray had been rescinded.
"The way the linesman saw it on the ice, he was convinced it was a major penalty, McGeogh said. "Unfortunately, he was wrong. It's been overruled."
All that was of little consolation to McLellan and the Sharks, who thought Keith earned an extra four minutes in penalties for instigating a fight while
"That doesn't help a team that's played a lot of hockey and needed that player," the Sharks coach said.
The Blackhawks entered the game with 16 points, one ahead of the Sharks and at least three ahead of every other NHL team. The win improved Chicago's record to 8-0-2 while the loss dropped San Jose to 7-2-1 and left the Sharks without a victory in its past three games.
The game had to be a frustrating one for the Sharks beyond the bad call. Twice they led by a pair of goals in a wild first period that ended in a 3-3 tie, four of those goals coming in a burst of 89 seconds.
What also made the period memorable was where those goals were coming from. On two teams laden with All-Stars, Tommy Wingels and Michal Handzus scored their first of the season after Joe Pavelski opened things up with his fifth. Two Blackhawks -- Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger -- also had their first while Andrew Shaw only had one coming into the game.
The action was rapid-fire in the opening 20 minutes. Pavelski bunting in a tipped rebound of a shot by Marc-Edouard Vlasic at 2:53 started things and Wingels zipped a shot past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford at 5:18 to stake San Jose to a 2-0 lead.
Then the rat-a-tat-tat began. Saad banking a shot off Braun past Niemi at 10:08 to make it 2-1. Handzus getting that one back at 10:47 after a takeaway by Dan Boyle only to have Shaw convert a perfect behind-the-net pass eight seconds later.
That made it 3-2, but it took only another 42 seconds before Braun lost the puck in front of his own net and Kruger made him pay for it, tying the game.
Chicago took its first lead at 11:52 of the second period and it involved another Sharks giveaway, this one by Douglas Murray to Blackhawk captain Jonathan Toews. He slid the puck to Patrick Kane and the Sharks were trailing 4-3.
Murray said he was aware Toews was nearby, just not that close.
"He picked my pocket," the Sharks defenseman said. "Obviously I thought I had more separation than I did."
Kane also got the empty-net goal that sealed the defeat for San Jose with 1:12 remaining in the third period.
McLellan was fully aware of his team's sloppy defensive play and the fact turnovers cost the Sharks at least two goals. So he wasn't ready to say the wrong call by the officials cost his team the game.
"Were we sharp enough to win?," he said. "I don't know, but that was a turning point."
The penalty kill struggled early this season, but had been 27 for 27 in the previous five games as San Jose climbed to sixth best in the NHL. The power play, on the other hand, was in a 1-for-18 slump over the past four games, though was still fifth best in the league because of a 12-for-32 performance in the first five games.
Phoenix (4-4-2) at Sharks (7-2-1), 7:30 p.m., CSNCA