Season Series: Chicago wins, 3-1Nov 15: Chicago 4, San Jose 3 (OT)Nov. 25: Chicago 7, San Jose 2Dec. 22: San Jose 3, Chicago 2Jan. 28: Chicago 4, San Jose 3 (OT)
How The Sharks Can Win: Simply by knowing how. Sharks teams in the past have been crippled by the inability to put the skate boot to the throat of an opponent when it was down, but after finishing off four one-goal wins over the Red Wings, it's clear that this squad might have a different mentality. It's more than just confidence. It's a matter of believing that the other guys on the ice are going to do their part to get the job done. The Sharks learned in the first round that they can count on secondary scoring from Joe Pavelski's line and in the second they got the results they've always hoped for from the top unit. Now that the pieces are together, they simply have to execute.
How The Blackhawks Can Win: Continue to be the road warriors. The Hawks are 5-1 away from the United Center this spring, outscoring the opposition 26-14 in the process. Part of that is that they seem better able to maintain their focus on the road -- they simply stick to the plan and avoid trying to do too much when they're the visitors. And by maintaining that discipline, they're better positioned to take advantage of their superior special teams. The Hawks' penalty kill is humming along at 88.7 percent, while the power play is converting at 21.6 percent. Both of those returns give them an edge over the Sharks.
Key Performer: Joe Thornton. His journey to personal redemption is far from complete, but Jumbo Joe began paving the path with that remarkable performance against the Red Wings. Thornton wasn't just a presence in that series, he was a consistent presence, finally assuming the leadership mantle that he'd rejected so many times in the past. He got his hands dirty, showing plenty of emotion in that blowout 7-1 loss and driving to the net more often than he curled along the half-boards. He may not match the results -- points in all five games, and goals in three of his last four -- but his ability to match that intensity will be critical to San Jose's chances.
Keep An Eye On: Dustin Byfuglien. If there's one thing Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov can count on this series, it's getting up close and personal with Byfuglien's wide behind. The massive Hawks winger might have been the difference-maker in the Canucks series thanks to his disruptive presence in front of Roberto Luongo. The trick for the Sharks will be to focus less on the imposing task of moving him out and more on minimizing his effectiveness by blocking shots before they get to the net, tying him up before he can get to rebounds and winning the battles for rebounds. Easy, right?
X-Factor: Manny Malhotra. With just one goal in 11 postseason games, the Sharks know they can't count on much offensive production from their third line center. But Malhotra earns his cheese, and then some, in the circle. His 61.7 percent winning percentage is the best of any active player, and will be key to San Jose earning possession of the puck in their own end.
Prediction: Sharks in seven
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