SHARKS at BLACKHAWKS
TV: VERSUS (HD), TSN (HD), RDS (HD)
(Chicago leads best-of-7 series, 2-0)
Big story -- It's pretty obvious, isn't it? The series turns on this game. If Chicago wins, it takes a commanding 3-0 lead with Game 4 set for Sunday afternoon. If San Jose wins, it's right back in this series with a chance to even it up on Sunday. The Blackhawks are only 3-3 at United Center in the playoffs and they haven't won in their own building since May 3. It's pretty clear that if they're going to win the Stanley Cup they're going to have to win on home ice, so might as well start now.
Sharks -- It really was just a lot of little things that added up to back-to-back frustrating losses at HP Pavilion. Evgeni Nabokov hasn't been bad, but he's getting outplayed by Antti Niemi. The Sharks need to be better with the puck because their possession game was lacking at home. They need to do a better job getting position in front of Nabokov, because the Blackhawks scored three goals on tip-ins from in front of the net in Game 2.
The Sharks need a sharper edge to their game. Games 1 and 2 were too civil. They need their Big Three of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley to be better at even strength. In the series they have scored only one goal at even strength and are a combined minus-8. Thornton is a minus-4. The Hawks' checking line of Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg has made life miserable for Thornton, Marleau and Heatley. And with the last change due to home-ice advantage, you have to think that the Blackhawks will get that matchup whenever they want it Friday night.
"The simple fact is if our big line ends up on the ice against those three, they have to find a way to outplay them," coach Todd McLellan said. "There's nothing that we can continually do to get away from it. They're going to be up against them. At the end of the night, they have to find a way to be productive."
Blackhawks -- It's just the opposite for the Hawks, because all the little things are breaking their way now. For instance, deflections off of sticks are turning into goals and perimeter shots are finding their way into the net as well. But the Blackhawks are earning their breaks because they are sticking to their game plan. San Jose made them uncomfortable at the start of both Games 1 and 2, but Chicago withstood the onslaught and never changed its style. In each game the Hawks have forced the Sharks to scramble in the second period and by the third they were controlling the pace and the play.
Of course, Niemi has been rock solid with 69 saves on 72 shots and Jonathan Toews has been a leader in every sense of the word. Toews already has a goal and three assists in the series and he leads the NHL with 16 assists and 23 points. He's on an 11-game points streak. Now the Hawks have to take their successful road mentality and use it at home, where they are all the rave except during the game.
"I went out for dinner last night and the second I stopped people started yelling," Adam Burish said. "It's cool. It's fun. We feel like we're doing our job. We're making people happy and we're getting the town excited. It makes you feel good."
Who's hot -- Dustin Byfuglien has goals in each of the two games in this series and six in the last six games. He's scored in three straight games dating back to Game 6 against Vancouver. … Patrick Marleau scored both of San Jose's goals in Game 2 and had the primary assist on Jason Demers' power-play goal in Game 1.
Injury report -- There are no injuries of note to report in this series.
Stat pack -- Toews has 7 goals and 15 assists during his 11-game point streak. He had only 1 assist through the first three games of the playoffs. … Duncan Keith leads all players in the series with 57:37 of ice time. He played a game-high 30:21 in Game 2. … The Blackhawks are up 2-0 despite losing 57 percent of the faceoffs to San Jose. However, Toews has won 23 of 43 draws (53.5 percent).
Puck drop -- "You're allowed to be passionate at this time of the year. We expect that. We expect you to be frustrated when it's not going your way," McLellan said. "But it's what you do with that, how you handle it, how you channel it. We as a group, as a team, likely won't be good enough to beat Chicago and frustration. We have to pick one or the other. If we end up trying to beat the frustration all the time, we won't have enough left in our tanks to beat Chicago. If we channel it, try to target Chicago, use our frustration on them, we have a chance to come back."