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Five factors for Sharks-Blackhawks Game 2

Tuesday, 05.18.2010 / 9:16 AM / Features
By Dan Rosen  - NHL.com senior writer
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Five factors for Sharks-Blackhawks Game 2
Five factors to consider as Blackhawks push for 2-0 lead vs. Sharks.
SAN JOSE -- Chicago leads the Western Conference Final 1-0 after a 2-1 win on Sunday. Game 2 is Tuesday night at HP Pavilion. Here are your five factors heading into Game 2.

1. Sharks Big Three
: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley were a combined minus-6 with eight shots and zero even-strength points in Game 1. Suffice it to say, that's not going to get it done. Sharks coach Todd McLellan at times went power on power, using the Thornton line when Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien were on the ice. He said he was comfortable with that, and it was a good idea to try to get his Big Three away from the Hawks checking line of Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd. However, Thornton, Marleau and Heatley played against all four of the Blackhawks lines and still didn't produce. Marleau did chip in on Jason Demers' power-play goal, but it's at even strength where these guys will have to step up.

2. Big Buff: If Dustin Byfuglien is going to score goals on slap shots from about 30 feet away from the net, coaches around the NHL are going to come up empty when they try to draw up game plans against him. The Sharks did a pretty good job of limiting traffic in front of Evgeni Nabokov, thereby limiting Byfuglien's effectiveness in that area, but he still scored the winner on a slap shot from high between the circles with 6:45 remaining. He has 5 goals in the last five games, masking the limited offensive production Chicago is getting from Marian Hossa, who has 2 goals in the playoffs.

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3. Speaking of Hossa … : It's not that the nearly $8 million-a-year player is doing nothing. In fact, Hossa has had a lot of say in the Blackhawks 2nd-ranked penalty kill and he's averaging almost 18 minutes of ice time per game. However, 2 goals is not nearly enough for a player with his offensive ability. If he gets going, the Blackhawks' top two offensive lines will round into perfect shape and they might be unstoppable. Already, Toews, Kane, Byfuglien and Patrick Sharp are producing. Troy Brouwer is finding his way, too, with a goal and an assist in the last two games. It's Hossa's turn.

4. Several minor concerns add up: For the most part, Sharks coach Todd McLellan was happy with the way his team played in Game 1. However, McLellan didn't particularly like the Sharks' puck possession game or the traffic they got in front of Antti Niemi. He also wasn't thrilled with how the Sharks inability to control the puck fed into the Hawks transition game, especially in the second period. Basically, McLellan wants his team to keep up the shots (45 is a great amount), but get more pressure at the net, fight for second and third opportunities and make Niemi's life miserable. To do that, they have to control the puck.

5. Niemi mania: As the stage gets bigger it just seems as though Niemi gets better. He was at his best on Sunday with a career high 44 saves, including that outstanding glove stop on Ryane Clowe, who looked like he had a sure power-play goal late in the second period before Niemi reached back and robbed him. If you think these two teams are going to continue to play tight games, obviously Niemi has to be just as good for the rest of the series. Then again, so does Evgeni Nabokov, who was good with 38 saves in Game 1. He's answering his own critics, too.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer