After finishing off Detroit last Saturday, the Sharks finally hit the practice ice knowing who their next opponent will be. San Jose will continue to refine their own form, but now there are intricacies they can work on regarding the Blackhawks.
“It’s nice to have it set and hopefully we’ll soon find out when we play,” said Dany Heatley.
The Sharks have learned a little bit more about the Blackhawks the past few games against Vancouver and got a detailed learning video from the coaching staff.
“You’re always watching what the other teams are doing and we watched a pretty good video on them today,” said Heatley.
The Sharks coaching staff was not surprised by what the video showed.
“Just reaffirming what we already know,” said Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan. “They are a great team that can skate very fast. They are playing at the top of their game.”
The talent is undisputed with the Blackhawks. They may be a mirror image with Detroit in terms of their speed and puck control game, but they are likely even a little more talented.
“I think on that backend, they’ve got guys who can really skate and activate in the offense,” said Heatley. “Detroit was like that, but I think Chicago is another step quickness wise and (in getting) guys up on the rush.”
“Quick in a way that they move the puck,” said Rob Blake. “You can be fast, but not be a fast skater. They move it tape to tape.”
The Sharks aren’t worried about their regular season mark against Chicago just as they weren’t worried about their regular season play against Detroit.
“There might be some tendencies, but there are so many things that go into it that make it different than the playoffs,” said Blake. “We’ll probably look at their last two series more than our regular season series.”
“The playoffs are a different ballgame,” said Heatley. “I don’t think you can put too much emphasis on the regular season, but you can know how they play.”
There are always areas to improve on, even for NHL member clubs, but Heatley felt the Sharks should focus on every part of their game if they want to go to the Stanley Cup Final.
“I think just step up in all areas,” said Heatley. “Each series gets harder. Detroit was a harder series than Colorado and we expect this one to be another notch up.”
LOOKING BACKPatrick Marleau
helped lead the Sharks to their only other appearance in the Western Conference Final back in 2004 against Calgary. As one of two holdovers from that team, along with Evgeni Nabokov, Marleau knows not to presume opportunities like this will come around every year.
“We did it in ’04 and it is a special group of guys we’ve got here,” said Marleau. “We want to keep playing and play as long as we can and play for each other. This is only our second time so they don’t come around every year like you think they would. It’s a great opportunity for our club and we’ve got to grab a hold of it and run with it.”
Marleau recalls the joy of the ’04 team, but also how quick it ended for them.
“Everything came about so quick,” said Marleau. “We have to make sure we’re ready and focused. In that series we got behind 2-0 and had a big hill to climb back. We tied it up 2-2, but we lost a lot of energy.”
The third round is just a little bit more of everything, whether it’s the intensity, the media or the external requests.
“After Colorado we had to get better against Detroit,” said Joe Thornton
. “After Detroit we have to get better against Chicago or we won’t move on. Your game has to step up even more and I’m sure it will.”
The Blackhawks were dangerous all season long when shorthanded and they continue to be so in the playoffs. Chicago set a record against the Sharks this year by scoring three times in a game while down a man.
“I think they are one of those teams that is looking to create offense off sloppy plays,” said Heatley. “They got a few on us and we have to really be sharp on our power play.”
“We are aware of that,” said McLellan. “They scored three against us in one night alone and really put us behind the eight ball. We’ll have a sense or awareness that they are about to attack on their penalty kill and it comes down to managing your shift length and the puck.”
Whether it was the biggest Sharks player on the ice, or the smallest, the Sharks have played extremely physical throughout the past month and will continue the trend in the Western Conference Final.
“That’s how we want it,” said Heatley about the physical game. “Stay with it 60 minutes, create that simple game, not a lot of mistakes. Get the puck in behind their D and really use our size and advantage.”
“We want to get our quickness going and to use our big bodies to our advantage,” said Marleau.
San Jose could know the dates and times for their Chicago series early Wednesday evening if the Eastern Conference teams conclude their matchups.
The regular season battles can be tossed aside a little more considering that three of the contests happened in the last calendar year and the most recent game was back in January.
“We haven’t seen this team for a long, long time,” said McLellan. “We’ll see how they want to play and react accordingly.”
The Sharks have brought up several members of the Worcester Sharks to keep them game ready in case something drastic happens. The group is staying in San Jose, but practicing separately from the big club.
The group includes Benn Ferriero
, Alex Stalock
, Derek Joslin, Mike Moore
, Ryan Vesce, Frazer McLaren, John McCarthy and Andrew Desjardins