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Key questions for Canucks, Sharks in Game 2

by Dan Rosen /
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- A dominant third period by the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday resulted in a 3-2 win and a 1-0 lead over the San Jose Sharks in the best-of-7 Western Conference Finals. Game 2 is Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, CBC, VERSUS, RDS) and the hockey world is wondering what storylines will emerge and what trends will be set before the series shifts to the Bay Area.

Several questions need answers. Here are six that we are pondering:

1. Which team will benefit most from the two day break between Games 1 and 2?

The assumption around these parts is that it will be the Sharks because they were admittedly the tired team in the third period of Game 1 for a myriad of reasons, perhaps including the fact that they were coming off a tough and emotional seven-game series against Detroit.

San Jose had two days between Game 7 against Detroit and Game 1 against Vancouver, but there is a natural drop in emotion when you go from a must-win Game 7 to a Game 1 and maybe the Sharks experienced some of that, specifically starting late in the second period when the Canucks turned the momentum with a wild flurry in front of goalie Antti Niemi.

The Sharks insist they'll be better in Game 2.

"We've massaged the mind. We've held them accountable," coach Todd McLellan said. "We've tried to help them. I expect us to be immensely better."

But McLellan also expects the Canucks to be better. They were far from perfect in Game 1 and were not going to turn down the two-day break. Rest is always appreciated at this time of the year and the Canucks believe they used it to their advantage.

"I think our guys are in great shape," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "They're ready for this."

2. How do the Sharks contain the Canucks' mobile 'D'?

Speed and mobility from the back end is something the Canucks figured they could use to quickly turn from defense to offense against the Sharks, who want to push the pace and protect the puck as much as possible. The Canucks had the advantage in that department in Game 1 and it produced a tangible result with Kevin Bieksa jumping up in the play and scoring the game-tying goal.

"Offense from our defense has been a big part of our team's success all year," Bieksa said. "It's just a matter of reading when the right time is. Last game, how the puck was chipped, it was a pretty easy read."

The Sharks' forwards have to be more aware of how mobile the Canucks' defensemen are and when they will read the play. It's not just one or two of them either.

Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Christian Ehrhoff, Alexander Edler and Sami Salo are all not afraid to pinch and join the rush when the play presents itself. Aaron Rome may sit back more, but that just gives his partner, Ehrhoff, more freedom.

San Jose doesn't have the same mobility from its backend other than Dan Boyle, but it can't just concede the matchup either.

3. Will Ryan Kesler vs. Joe Thornton turn into a must-watch matchup?

The Sharks' former Hart Trophy winner challenged the Canucks' Selke Trophy finalist to a fight before the opening faceoff Sunday. Kesler didn't want to go, but the two then went head to head for the better part of the first period Sunday. The matchup fizzled a bit as the game wore on, but that doesn't mean it will go away for good.

Thornton vs. Kesler could easily be back in a big way Wednesday and that should only make Game 2 and the entire series more intriguing.

"It's fun playing against him," Thornton said. "It's fun playing against world-class players. It makes you compete harder."

McLellan swears he wasn't trying to get Thornton away from Kesler and Vigneault insists he hasn't given Kesler a defensive assignment all season. However, it certainly looked as though Kesler was on Thornton and McLellan was trying to get away from that matchup in the first period.

McLellan even switched him to the third line and eventually to the fourth line just to get him some shifts that might have not been matched by Kesler. It didn't work because all Kesler did was follow Thornton around the ice. When Thornton jumped over the boards, even if it was with Ben Eager and Jamal Mayers, so did Kesler.

4. Can the Canucks' third line continue to make a difference?

Maxim Lapierre, Raffi Torres and Jannik Hansen had a huge night in Game 1. Lapierre scored his first of the playoffs on assists from Torres and Hansen, and overall the line forechecked like crazy and created havoc all over the ice. Hansen also had a glorious scoring chance late in the second period, but Niemi got his left pad out and make a big time stop.

The Canucks' third line clearly outplayed the Sharks' third line of Joe Pavelski, Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Wellwood. The Canucks are looking for more of the same from their energy trio in Game 2.

When Lapierre, Torres and Hansen are going the way they were Sunday, it makes the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows, Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond that much better. They were able to tire out the Sharks' defense, and that gives the advantage to the Canucks' top six.

"If we can chip in a goal it's obviously huge, but our main concern is to make their Ds look over their shoulders and force them to make plays they don't want to make," Hansen told "We were able to change the momentum in the game."

5. Will Dany Heatley and the Sharks' second line show up?

McLellan is asking for more from his second line, and Heatley, who has only 2 goals in the playoffs, said he along with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe can be more of a factor as long as they're skating and they're physical.

"If we're doing those things than everything else comes with that," Heatley said. "I didn't think we were as quick as we usually are last game and not as physical. We're going to have to do that tonight."

Heatley hasn't been nearly as productive as his past would suggest. His numbers, both in the postseason (3-5-8) and regular season (26-38-64) are way down from the standard he set for himself as a two-time 50-goal scorer. McLellan says it's because the Sharks have asked him to play a slightly different role, such as on the second power-play unit and in a penalty-killing, physical role.

"That may take a toll on him and you see his goal totals fall," McLellan said.

However, McLellan also used the word "absolutely" when he was asked if it's safe to assume that Heatley must be more of a scoring threat than he was in Game 1 if the Sharks are going to get past Vancouver.

6. Will Jeff Tambellini make a difference on the fourth line?

Tambellini is likely going to draw in to the lineup on the fourth line for Tanner Glass because, as Vigneault said, the Canucks have found there is a need for more speed against the Sharks.

Tambellini has played in only one game in these playoffs and it was Game 6 against Nashville, when he made a stellar defensive play to cancel out Martin Erat's breakaway attempt in the second period with the Canucks leading, 2-1.

He definitely provides more speed than Glass does and maybe that will give Vigneault reason to use his fourth line for more than eight shifts, as he did in Game 1. Victor Oreskovich is already there on the fourth line to provide the pop and Cody Hodgson will have to like the fact that he's got a speedy winger on his left side.

"I think (speed) is an element of our game that when we have played north-south, gone up the ice real quickly, we've been real effective," Vigneault said. "It's one of the things we'd like to do."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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