SHARKS at BLACKHAWKS
TV: NBC (HD), CBC (HD), RDS (HD)
(Chicago leads best-of-seven series, 3-0)
Big story -- In a series that had six or seven games written all over it, the second-seeded Blackhawks are now one win away from an unlikely sweep of the top-seeded Sharks and their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1992. They've ridden goaltender Antti Niemi, who has made 44 saves in two of the three victories and been by far the best player on either team in the series. The Sharks haven't been badly outplayed in the series, but they've been outplayed enough in the first three games to be on the brink of elimination. Coach Todd McLellan put his lines through a blender in Game 3, but once again, it was only Patrick Marleau who stood out. The winger has four of the five goals for the Sharks in this series, and if someone else doesn't step up Sunday afternoon, it will be a long and miserable flight back to San Jose for the Sharks.
Sharks -- To their credit, there's no panic or quit in the locker room. The Sharks realize they've been close to winning two of the three games in this series and they don't have to change too much to turn the tide in their favor.
"We just have to stay the course and continue to do what we do," goaltender Evgeni Nabokov said. "That's unique of the sport because sometimes you play good and you're still going to lose. Sometimes the bounce doesn't go your way."
Still, the Sharks know something needs to change, even if it's just a tweak here or there, if they are to get back in this series.
"I don't think we need to play much different than we did the last couple," captain Rob Blake said. "There are some things we can bear down a little bit better on. We'd like to execute better on the power play. As far as our level of competitiveness, being ready to play, we'll keep what we had yesterday.
Blackhawks -- After winning seven of eight and the last three against the best team in the Western Conference, can you believe the Blackhawks can play better?
Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Sharp think so.
"I think we could have played a little better," Byfuglien said. "Tightened up in little areas, and maybe move our feet a little bit more."
"I think there's room for improvement," Sharp said. "There's a lot of questions about how we've been playing on home ice. I thought we played better. I think there are areas for improvement. As long as we're getting the win at the end of the day, we're happy."
Obviously, the Blackhawks are happy. Niemi is playing out of his mind, having stopped 113 of 118 shots in the series.
"I think the thing you have to remember about Antti sometimes, even though it's his first year in the League, he's not 20 or 21 years old like most of the young rookies you see coming up," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "I think just as time went along, he gradually was gaining pretty good trust in the whole team now. Obviously, everybody has a ton of confidence in him."
Who's hot -- Marleau is just about the only player on the Sharks who has been above room temperature in this series. He has four goals, all in the last two games. Jason Demers is the only Shark besides Marleau to get a shot past Niemi.
Besides the Finnish wall that is Niemi, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is riding a franchise record 12-game point-scoring streak in the playoffs. Byfuglien has a goal in four straight games.
Injury report -- There are no new injuries of note for either team.
Stat pack -- Barring an evacuation of the city of Chicago, the Blackhawks will likely play in front of their 99th consecutive sell-out crowd Sunday. … The Sharks lost at least three games in a row this season just twice. But they followed the losses with at least four straight wins both times.
Puck drop -- "Well, our focus is in the right place. I think going into Game 1, 2 and 3, we all had the excitement of knowing we were going to win that game. I don't think we're looking beyond anything but tomorrow's game. Our guys should be commended how diligent they've been in their approach. I think our concentration is strictly tomorrow and we're not thinking about anything but tomorrow's game." -- Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville