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Olympic teammates become rivals

by Dave Lozo /
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The San Jose Sharks had eight players take part in the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Chicago Blackhawks sent six players to Vancouver. Of those 14 players, nine were on the ice for the gold-medal game.

So much for the idea that all those extra games would wear those players out -- because here they are set to face off in the Western Conference Finals, which get under way Sunday afternoon at HP Pavilion (3 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN, RDS).

"I think our coaches did a good job of giving us the rest when we needed it afterwards and allowed us to bounce back and proceed with the season.," said the Sharks' Joe Pavelski, a member of the silver-medal winning Team USA.

"That was part of our thought process, give them a couple days off here and there and hopefully they could replenish their tanks," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said when asked what he did with his Olympians. "We're very happy with where they're at right now. Seems to be a lot of energy in these guys."

There's likely to be even more energy among the players by the time Game 1 gets started. The Blackhawks haven't played since May 11. The Sharks closed their series against the Red Wings on May 8.
That's a lot of well-rested, elite-level talent -- and a lot of those players who shared a locker room at the Olympics are now mortal enemies.

"Obviously it was pretty cool meeting those guys and playing there," said Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, who along with Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews won gold with Team Canada. "But it's different now obviously. We have a job to do. We're going to do it as best we can. They're going to feel the same way."

"I got to know Pavelski pretty well," said Chicago's Patrick Kane, also a member of Team USA. "He's a good kid.  He's obviously really hot right now, a guy we have to eliminate. It's kind of nice when you're with a team for the whole year instead of two weeks. It would have been great to win that tournament. Meet a lot of new friends there.

"But this one will be way sweeter, I think."

The Sharks boast gold-medal winners Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley -- four players who were at the best in perhaps the most pressure-packed situation in hockey history.

How does the Olympic spotlight compare to the Stanley Cup version?

"It's different. The Olympics is one game, so technically it's a Game 7," said Boyle, who won a Cup with Tampa Bay six years ago. "These playoffs are series. It's definitely different. You learn from being in a high-pressure situation, which, as Canadians, that was the most pressure we've ever felt. You learn. You get better from it."

Friendships are out the window for the next two weeks.

"Once the puck drops," Heatley said, "all you're trying to do is win the game."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DLozoNHL

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