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For Blackhawks, simple game has led to road success

By Dan Rosen and Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writers

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For Blackhawks, simple game has led to road success
How have the Blackhawks won six straight playoff road games? Simple -- "We're not too fancy, we just work," say the players.
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Chicago will try to win its seventh straight road game Tuesday at HP Pavilion in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Several Blackhawks players feel their success in unfriendly atmospheres boils down to the simple fact that they play a different game than they do at home.

"We're not too fancy, we just work," left wing Troy Brouwer told NHL.com. "We're cautious with the puck and it seems to go well for us."

Chicago's road winning streak started in Nashville with a 3-0 win in Game 4 of the first round, on April 22. Counting that win at Bridgestone Arena, the Hawks have outscored Nashville, Vancouver and now San Jose by a combined 27-11. They are 8-for-24 on the power play (33 percent) and 21-for-25 on the penalty kill.

"I just think we have a lot of character in here and we come prepared," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "The buildings have been loud and crazy to play in and it's been a lot of fun playing in that atmosphere, too."

The fans in HP Pavilion especially were wound up prior to Game 1 Sunday, and you'd expect a similar atmosphere for Game 2 (10 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RDS) as the home team skates onto the ice through the smoking shark's teeth. Keith said it's imperative the Blackhawks match the flying start he expects San Jose to once again have.

The Hawks did not do that in Game 1 and they found themselves down 1-0 after the first intermission. As Patrick Sharp pointed out following the game, if it weren't for goalie Antti Niemi the deficit easily could have been double or triple that.

"I think you have to try to match that and weather the storm when you know they're going to be jacked up and excited," Keith said. "We are, too. We are excited to play, too, and just because we're in the other team's building it doesn't mean we're going to back down and let them come at us. That's part of being on the road, to weather that storm and give a push back."

If Chicago can do that Tuesday, then it should have a 2-0 lead going into United Center for Game 3 on Friday.

Possible changes -- Sharks coach Todd McLellan said, "We'll be close to the same" when asked about his lineup for Game 2. He's been using seven defensemen of late, and with Niclas Wallin playing well and Jason Demers scoring the Sharks' only goal in Game 1, it'll be tough to do any tweaking along the blue line.

While there may not be any personnel changes for Game 2, it doesn't mean there won't be any strategic or philosophical changes.

"There's always changes and adjustments," McLellan said. "We can't play the same game we did the other night or we're going to end up with the same results. There's areas of the game we have to be better in. There's areas of the game that we liked. There's always some system tweaks here and there with every series and every game.

"But it's not a dramatic overhaul. It's small pieces, whether it's individual or collectively."

Hawks D-men used to ice time -- Keith said he would do just about anything at this time of the year to get his team a win. And no matter what he has to do, being tired is not an option.

"At this time of the year we all know what is at stake," Keith said. "It's a chance to play for the Cup."

Keith logged more than 27 minutes in Game 1 and that's without a power play. He easily would have been over 30 minutes if the Sharks picked up a couple of penalties. Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Sopel all were over 21 minutes, too.

Brian Campbell finished with 17:48, but he, too, would have crept into the 20-minute range had the Hawks gotten any power-play time. However, Jordan Hendry played only 11 shifts totaling 7:39 and has been averaging less than nine minutes of ice time per game.

For long stretches Chicago essentially goes with five defensemen, a tactic normally reserved for when one a team loses a blueliner during a game. The Hawks, though, say it has no effect on them whatsoever.

"It's what we're used to playing and it doesn't change anything for us," Campbell said. "You know, Jordan is doing what he's got to do and he's playing great. I don't know. I think we probably all say at the end of the game that we'd all like more ice time."

Getting stuck in traffic -- It's a cliché nearly as old as the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- we have to get traffic to the net.

There wasn't a player in the Sharks' locker room who failed to talk about that plan after their optional skate this morning at HP Pavilion. It's not surprising after Blackhawks Niemi stopped 44 of 45 shots in Game 1.

"We want to put as many shots as we can on him," said Sharks captain Rob Blake, "but we'd like a little more traffic too."

"We can definitely take more pucks to the net and make his life a little more uncomfortable," Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said. "Back him in. Obviously he made a lot of good saves where the pucks were along the ice. Sometimes it's hard, but have a little patience around there and get it up."

Time to get nasty
-- Unless there already is a pre-existing rivalry such as what we saw in the previous round between the Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks, the players say it usually takes a game or two before the series starts to get a little nasty.

Don't be shocked if we see that develop at some point in Game 2.

"It usually takes a game or two to figure out who you're going to be paired up with for the entire series and who you're going to be battling with, and that's when grudges start and when rivalries start," Brouwer said. "You're probably going to start seeing it within the next game or two, guys trying to create a dislike for each other. There will be some pushing and shoving and some arguing, too."

There was very little of that in Game 1.

Clowe's deep thought -- Of all the saves Niemi made in Game 1, one of the best came against Clowe.

A shot from the point by Demers was blocked, but the puck squirted to Clowe at the side of the net. It looked like a sure goal, but Niemi sprawled along the ice to keep the game tied, 1-1, with 4:12 left in the second period.

"It was an afternoon game, so I had longer to think about it," Clowe joked. "It was a great save. I think I would have been a little harder on myself, but for the fact it hit off my skate and it went up to my stick and I just tried to shoot it as quick as possible because it wasn't one of those things where I had time to wait."

Digging a hole -- As the Philadelphia Flyers proved in the East, a 3-0 deficit isn't insurmountable. Still, the Sharks don't want to leave for Chicago on Wednesday morning down 2-0 in this series.

"The percentages of coming back from an 0-2 deficit are definitely not very good," said Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle. "We got to take control of this series back and win this game tonight."

The last time the Sharks were in the Western Conference Finals was 2004, and they actually found themselves in a 2-0 hole after losing both games to the Flames at home. They pulled themselves out of it by winning the next two games in Calgary, but eventually lost the series in six games.

Game 2 isn't an elimination game for the Sharks, but it's basically a must-win.

"It's not do or die, but you don't want to be down 2-0 against Chicago," Clowe said. "It's not a situation you want to be in."

Follow Dan Rosen and Dave Lozo on Twitter at: @drosennhl and @DLozoNHL


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