BLACKHAWKS AT SHARKS
TV: NBC (HD),TSN (HD), RDS (HD)
Season series -- The Blackhawks went 3-1-0 against the Sharks in the regular season, but two of those wins came in overtime. It's Sports Cliché 101 to say you can throw out the regular season when two teams meet in the playoffs, but it might be especially true here. Chicago's Cristobal Huet, the backup to playoff No.1 goaltender Antti Niemi, started all four regular-season games against the Sharks. Also, the teams haven't met since late January, an eternity in hockey time -- nor have they met in a playoff series.
Big story -- It's the best of the West, with the top-seeded Sharks facing the second-seeded Blackhawks. Only the Washington Capitals amassed more points in the regular season than Chicago and San Jose, which will likely play one of the fastest-paced playoff series in recent memory. The Blackhawks and Sharks finished third and fourth in the League, respectively, in goals scored. The biggest obstacle facing the Sharks right now is rust. They haven't played since eliminating the Red Wings on May 8. Chicago has been off since eliminating Vancouver on Tuesday.
Blackhawks -- The Blackhawks were eliminated in five games from last season's Western Conference Finals by the Detroit Red Wings, but captain Jonathan Toews feels the team learned how to win by losing last year.
"The No. 1 thing is you look at the way we played, won those games, won those first two series in the playoffs against Calgary and then Vancouver," Toews said of last year's playoffs. "It just seemed like no matter how many mistakes we made, we still found ways to win games. Especially against Vancouver, we gave up a lot of leads. I think we were down, if I can remember correctly, 2-1 in that series. We somehow just kept coming back.
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Sharks -- The team is well-rested, loose and ready to go. No one seems concerned with their franchise's lack of playoff success. The last time the Sharks reached the West Finals was in 2004, and only Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov remain from that team.
"I think the biggest change from then to now is the rule changes, if you can remember those playoffs," Marleau said. "They were pretty physical, a lot of hooking, holding.
"But I think over the years, now you appreciate how long it does take to get there and how hard it is to get there. You have to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself, being this year.
According to Joe Thornton, there's only one way the Sharks' season will be considered a success.
"Ever since I've been here, it's Cup or bust," Thornton said. "We realize the expectations out here are probably higher than any city in the Western Conference. We set our sights high in the pre-season to get in the playoffs and then do some damage.
"I think we're finally at that point where we're feeling good. We're feeling comfortable with our team, how we play. But you got to win the Cup or you bust."
Who's hot -- Chicago captain Jonathan Toews had a monster second-round series against the Canucks. In six games, he posted 4 goals and 8 assists. To put that in perspective, his 12 points in just that series are more than every San Jose Shark has this entire postseason except Joe Pavelski.
For the Sharks, Thornton has a six-game points streak in which he has 3 goals and 6 assists.
Injury report -- The Blackhawks and Sharks are healthy entering Game 1 -- at least, as healthy as can be expected of teams that will play their 100th game of the season during this series if it goes long.
Stat pack -- This is just the sixth time since the current playoff format began in 1994 that the top two seeds have made it to the conference final. … These teams boast 14 Olympians -- eight for San Jose -- including seven gold medalists and two silver-medal winners. ... San Jose is 5-1 at home in this year's playoffs and has won five in a row at the Shark Tank; Chicago is 5-1-0 on the road and has won its last five away from United Center.
Puck drop -- "We shouldn't feel satisfied. We shouldn't feel like we've accomplished anything. I know getting back to where we got to last year, it's where we wanted to be. But getting to the next round is what we're all about." -- Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville