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Sharks Best Up Against Hawks' Top Line

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
Is there better hockey than pitting the best against the best?

With the best in the West meeting up in the Western Conference Finals, the hockey world gets the opportunity to see perhaps the best lines matched up against each other.

In Game 1, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan showed a tendency to put the Joe Thornton line on the ice against Chicago Blackhawks’s top line of Dustin Byfuglien, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Having the last change, as is the prerogative of the home team, allows McLellan to do that quite often. He doesn’t always get his way though.

“We'd prefer to go a certain way, but when you're on the bench and there's a lot of line matching going on, for as much as we'd like to have a group of players out against a certain line, they're very good at changing,” said McLellan.

San Jose’s bench boss noted that the Blackhawks prefer Dave Bolland against Jumbo Joe.

“That's not power-on-power,” McLellan said. “So our third line is either going to play against Bolland, if we get what we want, or they're going to play against Toews or (Patrick) Sharp. If they're out against that group, they have to be very strong defensively.”

When the matchups do happen, it will let the Sharks other lines pair up with their respective lines more often. For players who not on the top two lines, it has the potential to allow for more offensive thoughts.

If Scott Nichol’s line is out there against the Toews line, there is no room to error on defense. When matched up against the other fourth line, while defense is still a top priority in the Sharks system, they might be able to think a little more aggressive offensively.

“I think even if we’re out there against the Toews line, we want to create offense if we can,” said Logan Couture who centers the Sharks’ third line. “Our first goal is to be responsible, but offense is still on our mind.”

Added Torrey Mitchell: “We have to create energy, but at the same time, if we’re going power versus power, then we have to create offense ourselves. If we’re going against their third line, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re in a defensive role. That will be key, those goals by the third and fourth line. They always seem timely in a playoff series, so we’re going to have to step up.”

The mindset just has to be altered a bit.

“It’s a mentality thing,” said Mitchell. “If you’re out there against Toews and Patrick Kane, you’re going to be a little more cautious. Maybe be in a more defensive mentality.”

Nichol actually has a little extra room for offense on his line with McLellan dressing seven defensemen recently.

“I really enjoy that,” said Nichol of his rotating linemates. “Jamie McGinn is a really underrated player with a great shot. He scored ten goals this year and that’s with being up half the year. I love playing with him. Then they put Clowe and Patty out there, sometimes Heater comes on our line. We like that. It keeps the other team on their toes.”

Maybe it’s just that Nichol is such a popular centerman that everybody wants to play alongside him.

“They can’t go down any farther, the only thing they can do is go up,” laughed Nichol.

San Jose wants a different result, but they expect the contest to be tight again.

“It was a one goal game and one play changed the game,” said Dany Heatley. “We had some chances to take the lead and it’s going to be similar tonight. When we get the chance, we’ve got to bury it.”

The Sharks will have to be smart defensively as well again.

“It’s the attention to details,” said Heatley. “If you fall asleep, they’ve got a lot of guys that can jump in the rush in the offensive zone.”

“Being smart with the puck and not turning it over at the blueline in transition because they can be dangerous,” said Torrey Mitchell.

The Sharks veteran lockerroom has them prepared for Game 2 instead of being nervous about losing the first contest of the series.

“We feel confident,” said Mitchell. “I thought we did a pretty good job the last game.”

“You always want to win the first one and we didn’t do that, we want to come back and get the second one,” said Heatley. “We talked about it before the playoffs. We’re going to win some games and we’re going to lose some games during this playoff run. It’s how you come back the next night.”

There is pressure to win tonight, but much in the same way the club would put pressure on themselves if they were up 1-0.

“You should have pressure and it’s wanted pressure,” said Rob Blake. “There are four teams left, they’re competing and it’s not going to be easy. They’re not going to let you (win) and our level has to be there too. You don’t get to this position unless you’ve got things figured out. We’re down a game. We want to be even going into their building for sure.”

When asked about his lineup for Game 2, McLellan hinted at a possible alteration.

“We’ll be close to the same,” said McLellan. “I think as the game evolves, we’ll see what their plans are as far as the lineup. It won’t be much different.”

As for the game plan, McLellan hinted at minor tweaks there.

“There are always changes and adjustments,” said McLellan. “We can’t play the same game we did the other night or we’ll end up with the same result. There are areas of the game we have to be better in and areas of the game we liked. There is always a system tweak here and there in every series and every game. It’s not a dramatic overhaul.”

During Dany Heatley’s media scrum this morning a reporter’s cell phone went off. Heatley’s response of “amateur hour” drew laughter from the gathered crowd.

McLellan was asked if he had a lucky suit/tie combination that has worked.

“I have a little guy at home that thinks he can put together a shirt and tie and believes that he has the lucky touch,” said McLellan with a laugh. “But it hasn't always worked, I can tell you that much.”

VERSUS' coverage of the first two rounds of 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs was the most-watched first two rounds on cable on record with an average of 775,000 viewers for the 54 telecasts (Stanley Cup Playoff cable viewership became available by Nielsen for the 1994 playoffs). The average viewership (1.041 million) for VERSUS’ coverage of the Conference Semifinal round also was the highest on record, surpassing all prior playoff seasons dating back to at least 1994.

Game 2 will be at 7 p.m. on Versus, 98.5 KFOX and Even if the Eastern Conference Finals goes to overtime, Bay Area viewers are assured of seeing the first puck drop for the Sharks game.

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