If the Sharks hope to play in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history this spring, they'll almost certainly have to defeat the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final to get there. Sure, the NHL postseason is notoriously unpredictable and there's no question the St. Louis Blues have a reasonable chance of making it out of the Central Division. But the Hawks are the defending champs and nothing that has transpired this season suggests they're any weaker now than when they won Game 6 against Boston in June.
Tonight's meeting between the two teams is the last one scheduled prior to a potential playoff matchup three months from now. San Jose was blown out at the United Center in mid-November then turned in one of the gutsiest performances we've seen from them this season when they pulled out a shootout win against the Blackhawks on January 5th, beating the league's best team on the road on the second half of a back-to-back with their backup goaltender in net and five top-nine forwards out of the lineup.
While ex-Hawk Marty Havlat, one of those top-nine forwards missing the last time these teams played, is set to skate in his third straight game after missing more than a month due to a lower-body injury, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Tyler Kennedy and Raffi Torres remain out tonight, which sort of robs us of a true preview of how these heavyweights stack up against each other. It's still an opportunity for the Sharks to prove they can beat the Blackhawks in regulation, a feat they haven't accomplished in so long Jamie McGinn and Benn Ferriero scored for San Jose the last time they pulled it off.
|33-10-13, 79 points
||34-15-6, 74 points|
|1st in Central Division||2nd in Pacific Division|
Projected Sharks Lineup
Matt Nieto - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau - Joe Pavelski - Tommy Wingels
James Sheppard - Andrew Desjardins - Mike Brown
Marty Havlat - Bracken Kearns - Eriah Hayes
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Jason Demers
Brad Stuart - Justin Braun
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle
Projected Blackhawks Lineup
Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Kris Versteeg - Brandon Pirri - Patrick Kane
Brandon Saad - Michal Handzus - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival