Five things the Sharks need to stay alive in the West Conference finals
Patrick Marleau and Jason Demers have the Sharks' only goals in the West finals
Down 3-0, the Sharks can't afford to hold back on offense against the Blackhawks
The games have been close and the overall picture of the series is misleading
CHICAGO -- Facing postseason elimination isn't exactly a novel concept to the San Jose Sharks, but this 3-0 series hole they're sitting in doesn't bode well. Here are five things San Jose will need to live another day as they face the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 this afternoon.
1. More than Patrick Marleau. The Sharks' ex-captain has scored the last four goals for San Jose, which is great for he who will be a free agent in six weeks, but less than great for a team that is looking to make its first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. San Jose desperately needs someone else to step up. "There are people that need to produce more," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said yesterday. "To produce more, you probably have to play a little bit better. We expect that obviously as early as tomorrow [because] if it's not there tomorrow, it's too late." The only other Shark to find the back of the net in this series has been Jason Demers, who scored the first goal of the series exactly one week ago.
2. Even the kitchen sink. There can't be any holding back for the Sharks' offense. Certainly, they still recall Game 4 of their series against the Detroit Red Wings. Down in a similar 3-0 series hole, the Wings came out and absolutely trounced the Sharks, beating them 7-1, and reminding them that it's not over until it's over. As the Philadelphia Flyers proved (thanks in large part to a crumbling Boston Bruins offense), a 3-0 hole isn't insurmountable. But of course, a realist will point out that the ultimate comeback is so rare that seeing it happen twice in one postseason would be about as likely as seeing a fully logical and sensible ending to Lost tonight. (I swear, if the Island is just some Hurley dream sequence, I'm going to hit somebody.) Then, the key, according to Philadelphia, is to take it one game at a time, one shift at a time. The Flyers didn't win four games in one night; and neither will the Sharks. "It feels realistic because we do tend to get really hot," defenseman Douglas Murray said. "We've had a lot of long winning streaks behind us. You know, when things get loose, nothing's impossible."
3. Take it to the net. Marleau's first of two goals Friday night, a 5-on-3 power play score that opened the eventual 3-2 overtime Blackhawks win, came on a scramble in front of the net after center Joe Pavelski simply took the puck to the crease and forced Chicago to try and stop him. Driving to the net created a chance quicker than a whole lot of fancy passing, and given the Sharks' considerable size advantage, top to bottom, muscle in that area could certainly work in their favor. They'll have to be better at staying with the play in their offensive zone and avoid being a one-and-done attack. The Blackhawks have quickness, but the Sharks have to use strength.
4. Look alive. With the line juggling from Game 1 likely to continue, San Jose will have at least 60 minutes to find something that works and areas where the Blackhawks seem vulnerable. "I thought it probably kept [the Blackhawks] on their toes a little bit," McLellan said of his different combinations Friday night. "But more importantly, it kept our guys on their toes. They had no idea who they were playing with before the game, right up to after the warmup. ... I think that alerted them that this wasn't normal, this wasn't the same."
5. Just have faith. The Sharks can't expect to play too much better than they did Friday. And to leave the United Center without the win stings, but they did so knowing it could've gone their way. As much of a hole 3-0 looks to be, the games have been so close and so evenly matched that the overall picture of the series is misleading. The key now is to dwell on that rather than the ultimate outcome. "I don't think we need to play much different than we did the last couple," defenseman 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 [Friday]."