As frustrating as it is for Sharks fans to see their team down 0-2 heading to Chicago, there's reason to be hopeful as the series continues to unfold.
Tuesday evening's 4-2 loss included a strong start, once again, by the home squad, but as in the first game, the pressure and decided edge in carrying play and putting shots on net was not rewarded with goals.
"I thought," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, "until they scored, that we were handling the puck well, carrying it well, and coming through the neutral zone well against a very good team."
Indeed, the Sharks held a strong edge in shots early on, and in fact out-shot Chicago again, 27-22, and put more pucks on net, 62-52.
"I thought we withstood another barrage in the first ten minutes," said Blackhawks' coach Joel Quenville.
The Sharks held an early lead in shots, 10-6, because of that extra energy and jump they demonstrated at the start of the game. There was a lot of energy in HP Pavilion that was reflected down onto the ice, also.
But it was Chicago that scored the first goal of the game, and that had an unexpected effect on the players.
"That goal took a lot out of us, for some reason," said McLellan. "I was disappointed, because we have had that resiliency in our hockey club, but you could feel it on the bench. It took us a while to climb back and get the energy level back up where it needed to be.
"When that happens against a team that is playing that well, you will have some miscues and some mis-execution. I thought we let our guard down a little bit after the first goal, and they took the game over for a while."
The Sharks had trouble creating time and space in the neutral zone, particularly in the second period. As a puck possession team, the Sharks want to not only have the puck, but also to control it.
"They are a good neutral zone team, and we have to come through that better. We want to have the puck," said Joe Pavelski
. "We need to get it back when we give it up. They are good in the neutral zone, they have a lot of speed and have guys who can hold onto the puck."
"We tried to do too much at times," Pavelski said. "We need to just make the easy pass, sometimes we tried to go too far. It's going to start with one shift Friday, and we'll get the ball rolling and build on it."
Team captain Rob Blake had perhaps the toughest take on the game.
"The effort part is there, but we can execute much better than that. Our level has gone down from the last series. As a person, in this room, we each have to commit more."
Asked what the Sharks need to do to reach that higher level of execution, Blake said, "passes tape to tape, a little quicker through the neutral zone. We don't look like a quick team, they look quicker because they are making the plays. Their D got a lot of pucks and turned them back. We weren't putting pucks behind them."
"We need a lot of commitment," said Pavelski, "by a lot of guys. We didn't have nearly enough guys out there tonight who got the job done. We've won so far this season with commitment by everybody, and that's what we need."
"It takes poise, it takes smarts, to get through the neutral zone against a team like Chicago," said Dan Boyle
. "If you want to get it deep, get it deep. If you want to stick-handle through, do it, but you've got to get it done. I was a little sloppy at times. I think we need more poise. To be confident in ourselves and what we can do out there."
Boyle pointed out that Chicago blocked a lot of shots for the second game in a row, which is borne out by the stats. Although the Sharks got 27 shots on goal, the Hawks blocked 23 more attempts.
"If you're not scoring the goals, that's when desperation needs to set in offensively," Boyle said. "If it's not working for you, do something else. We've all got to look in the mirror. If we're not scoring, there's got to be a reason. In the regular season, you've got 82 games to snap out of it. We have two right now."
Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov gets the final word on this game: "We were good. Good is not good enough."
The Sharks will travel to Chicago for Game Three of the Western Conference Finals on Friday, May 21 at 5:00 PM (Pacific). The game will be available on VERSUS, 98.5 KFOX FM and SJSHARKS.com.