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Hawks rely on shutdown unit to stifle Sharks

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Hawks rely on shutdown unit to stifle Sharks
Having shut down Vancouver's top line, the Chicago Blackhawks will rely on their top checkers to do the same to San Jose's big line in the Western Conference Finals.
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Having a shut-down checking line to pester the opposition's best scorers is a must during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville says it's going to take more than just a three-man unit to shut down the Sharks' top line of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

Luckily for Quenneville, he has three forwards and two defensemen who have already shown they are up to the challenge.

In the second round against the Vancouver Canucks, Quenneville employed pesky forwards Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd and Dave Bolland along with defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to control the high-flying Sedin twins. It worked about as well as Quenneville could have hoped. The Sedins had a big Game 1, but could only muster a combined 2 goals and 4 assists in the final five games of the series.

Those five Blackhawks can expect an even bigger test against the Sharks' big three.

"Certainly it's an option," said Quenneville, who of course won't make anything official on Saturday with Sunday's Game 1 less than 24 hours away. "I think they relish that challenge and that opportunity.  I thought they did a nice job against the Sedins.  This matchup in this series is going to be a little bit tougher.

"I think Keith and Seabrook will match up good against that line."

Heatley, Thornton and Marleau have combined for 8 goals and 21 assists in 11 games during the postseason. The trio possesses some different traits than the Sedins. For one, the Sharks' unit has a little more size and strength. Also, while the Sedins were rotating Alex Burrows and Mikael Samuelsson onto their line, whoever you want to consider the third-best forward on the Sharks' top unit was good enough to make Canada's Olympic roster this year.

"Obviously now with Thornton, Marleau and Heatley, it's got some different challenges that we're going to be facing, one of them being their size," Keith said. "But they're all good at protecting the puck.  They all have different things about them that make them great players."

"I think we've just got to play our game," said Seabrook. "Have five guys out there willing to do the job, coming back with good sticks and speed. They're big, they're strong. They can play physical, they can score goals, they can pass the puck.  We just got to try and get in lanes as best we can, try and play them as physical as we can."

What made the Blackhawks' shut-down line so effective against the Canucks wasn't that they just held the Sedins in check. They also contributed some timely goals.

Versteeg scored the game-winner in the pivotal Game 2. Bolland had a pair of goals in the final three games of the series, including a backbreaking shorthanded goal with 45 seconds left in the second period that put the Blackhawks ahead 3-0.

It was quite the offensive outburst from Bolland, who had just six goals in 39 regular-season games. Just don't ask him how he was able to shut down the Sedins and contribute a couple goals.

"Everybody from Vancouver is saying 'I don't know how you did it. What did you do?'" Bolland said. "I don't know what I did. It was fun. It's a bit of an accomplishment to do that to those guys."

One thing's for sure -- Bolland is ready for the bigger challenge in the Western Finals.

"Joe, I think he's the size of those two combined," Bolland said of Thornton, who is about three inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than either Sedin. "He's a bigger guy out there. His body position is really good from playing against him.

"It'll be a challenge, but something that we're looking forward to."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter:
@DLozoNHL


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