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Sharks have to be a little bit stronger in Game 2

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Todd McLellan held his hands out wide, shoulder-width apart, and slightly shook them up and down. Then he dropped his left hand and put his right thumb and pointer finger maybe an inch apart. He shook his hand again to get out his point.

McLellan doesn't think his team has to be THIS much better in Game 2 Wednesday night than it was in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. THAT much will do.

"We've got to convince the players of that," he said. "We're not asking you to be 10 or 15 percent better, we're asking you to be one percent better."

That one percent has everything to do with strength. The Sharks were outmuscled in Game 1 and it cost them dearly in a 3-2 loss.

"You have to put yourself in a position to be successful, then when you're there, you got to get the job done physically," McLellan said. "It starts in the circle, ends up in the corners, net front. Even skating to open ice to me is a physical battle because you have to win that race, you have to get there before the other team does."

The Canucks set a more physical tone early in the series opener. Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres each connected for a hit within a 30-second span during their first energy shift of the game. It continued from there -- in the second period Chris Higgins plastered Joe Pavelski with a monster open-ice hit and Alex Edler had a big one on Dany Heatley.

By the latter stages of the second period the Canucks had the Sharks right where they wanted them, gassed and unable to fight back. Vancouver owned the third period, scored twice and took a 1-0 lead in the series.

"It's disappointing because when you don't win that (physical) battle you usually haven't played up to your abilities, and you weren't engaged enough," Pavelski told NHL.com. "The guys were ready and we were saying a lot of the right things, but you have to remember that you have to put your work hat on. You have to go out there and skate and work and battle, and if you can set that tone physically, your mind is usually in it and it all kind of falls into place."

That's going to be the key for the Sharks in Game 2 -- their bodies have to set the tone so their skill can take over. That means they have to win the battles on the wall and in the corners for the pucks and do their best to punish the Canucks' defensemen, three things they did not do effectively in Game 1.

"I think puck battles don't necessarily mean just hitting -- it means winning 'em, finding a way in the scrum for our team to gain the puck," defenseman Dan Boyle said.

The performance and production (or lack thereof) that the Sharks got from their second line Sunday is a perfect example of the difference between winning and losing puck battles. Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe and Heatley were not bad breaking out of their own end, but they were not effective at all in the offensive zone because they rarely got possession of the puck there.

"If you get the puck in there, you've got to come up with it," Clowe said. "You've got to win battles and that's just on yourself, that's not a system thing. When you get the puck then you can make stuff happen, get some movement, get them running around a bit and get them tired out. But you have to start with the puck."

The Canucks did most of the time and, as Henrik Sedin said, that's when they get going and, "It's tough to stop us."

It was tough to stop Kevin Bieksa when he sped from the defensive zone into the offensive zone to score his game-tying goal 7:02 into the third period. Clowe said Bieksa was able to get up the ice so easily and faster than the Sharks because he was fresher.

"When the 'D' is not getting punished they're going to have legs to play offense," Clowe said. "That's what happened."

The Sharks were admittedly tired toward the end of Game 1, and McLellan even used the word "sluggish" to describe their third period. He also admitted that maybe some of that had to do with the carryover effect of playing an emotional Game 7 just three nights earlier, but that's not something the Canucks totally believe.

"We came out in that third period and we were hungry," Torres told NHL.com. "You could say a that it was a tough series (against Detroit) for them, a big emotional win for them in Game 7 followed by some travel time and getting back in it, but at the end of the day we played hard and wanted it more."

Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic couldn't disagree even though he would have liked to.

"We played hard and they played harder, that's why they won the game," Vlasic said. "We have to play even harder the next game."

Stronger would be a better way to put it.

"It's not this much, it's only that much," McLellan said. "Sometimes that's all you need."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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