1. Experience vs. youth in goal
-- If there's one area where the Sharks should have an advantage, it's between the pipes. That's no disrespect to Antti Niemi
, who has carried his own during the first two rounds for the Blackhawks. But Evgeni Nabokov
has played more playoff games in his career (76) than Niemi has played in his career playoffs and regular season combined (54). Niemi outplayed Vancouver's Roberto Luongo
last round and the Blackhawks advanced. If Nabokov is the second-best goalie here, the Sharks will be in trouble.
2. You must protect this house
-- Both San Jose and Chicago amassed 62 points at home this season, tied for the third-most in the NHL. But this year, home-ice advantage has meant very little -- just ask the four teams to lose Game 7s at home this postseason or the Canucks, who had the best home record this year and lost three times at GM Place in the second round. The Sharks, 5-1 at home in the playoffs, have to defend HP Pavilion, the toughest place in the NHL to play according to a poll in Sports Illustrated. If the Blackhawks continue to be road warriors -- they are 5-1 in the postseason -- it could be trouble for the Sharks.
3. Where's Marian Hossa?
-- Lost in the Blackhawks' postseason run has been the lack of offense from their big offseason acquisition. Hossa, who signed a 12-year, $63 million contract in July, has just 2 goals in 12 games. He has contributed eight assists, but he'll have to step up his game against the top-seeded Sharks for the Blackhawks to advance.
4. The rest is history
-- The Sharks haven't played in seven days. The Blackhawks haven't played in four days. That's enough combined rust to slow Ironman. On top of all that, both teams must rev it up for a rare noon PT game on Sunday after all that time off. Whoever finds their legs and gets into rhythm first will have a huge early advantage.
5. Getting to the net
-- The Blackhawks turned their series around with the Canucks by crashing the net and rattling Roberto Luongo
. Doing that certainly won't be as easy against the Sharks, but if that plan ain't broken, there's no reason to fix it entering Game 1.