Western Conference Championship: Five Threats Chicago Poses To San Jose

Mitch ReberCorrespondent IMay 12, 2010

The Blackhawks are an interesting match up for the Sharks, having finished with the third best record in the NHL, just one point behind SJ. True, they beat us three times in the regular season, but that was then and this is now...so let's take a minute to examine what it's going to take to win this series.

1) Ability to Score Quickly

Chicago has a young, fast team that can score in the blink of the eye, as evidenced by Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg's goals that occurred just 36 seconds apart in the second period of their last game.   Dave Bolland added another goal in the second with just 45 seconds left in the period, and then Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien scored 35 seconds apart in the third.   This team puts up big numbers quickly, and if we learned anything from the Vancouver series it's that if they catch you napping they will make you pay.

How SJ can neutralize:
-Score quickly themselves, and take it to the Hawks. Chicago isn't the only team that can put the puck in the net...the Sharks scored three times in 79 seconds against Detroit in Game 1.
-No mistakes in defensive zone: Boyle
- Puck control in the neutral zone: limiting their transition offense will cut down on their opportunities

2) Defense

The Hawks have a solid blue line, with top-notch defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, who both played for Team Canada, as well as Niklas Hjalmarsson, and former Shark Brian Campbell.

Antti Niemi guards the net for Chicago, and he has had his share of ups-and-downs during the playoffs, but looked decent in the last few games, with a .906 Save Percentage and a 2.68 GAA.   He will be severely tested in this series though, and his play could make or break Chicago's chances of winning.

How SJ can neutralize:

-Hit hard and often in their zone, wear them out.
-Crowd the neutral zone and steal passes.
-Throw lots of pucks on net, get rebounds.
-Win faceoffs in offensive zone.

3) Scoring Depth

Chicago has six players who scored over 20 goals in the regular season, including current postseason point leader Jonathan Toews, who had 12 points in the Vancouver series alone.

Toews—20 points (6 goals, 14 assists)
Patrick Kane—15 points (7 goals, 8 assists)
Patrick Sharp—14 points (5 goals, 9 assists )
Marian Hossa—10 points (2 goals, 8 assists)
Dustin Byfuglien—4 goals
Dave Bolland—3 goals, 4 assists

How SJ can neutralize:
-Punish their forwards: We are the bigger, stronger team. Unleash Murray.
-Match ups: At least one of our lines is going to give them trouble. Find out which one early (probably the second line, like always)

4) Transition/Turnover Scoring

One of the most dangerous aspects of the Blackhawks' game is their transition offense and fast break.   They are very good at capitalizing on mistakes and odd-man rushes. Who can forget the three humiliating short-handed goals that Chicago scored against SJ on Nov. 25?   Hopefully the same mistakes will not be repeated in the upcoming games.

How SJ can neutralize:
-Crisp breakouts
-Don't let them get into a rhythm on their breakout
-Get back on D
-Watch the line changes

5) Momentum Coming Into the Series

Chicago won all three games in Vancouver during their last series by a score of 17-7, despite the Canucks having the best home record in the NHL during the regular season.   They are coming off a great Game 6, and definitely have a head of steam coming into this series, looking to win the Western Conference Championship that eluded them last year.

How SJ can neutralize:
-Bring back the confidence from Red Wings series
-HP Pavilion crowd
-Frustrate them early
-Exploit rest advantage