McLellan: 'We have two goaltenders we can rely on'
Brad Stuart and the Sharks will look to establish the pace of the game on Sunday against the Blackhawks. (USATSI)
CHICAGO – Sunday’s much-anticipated Sharks-Blackhawks game could be a battle of attrition.
For the Sharks, they’ve come to the end of the road on a five-game trip that has seen them crisscross the Western part of North America. Getting to Chicago from Edmonton immediately after their 3-1 win there on Friday night was a bit of an adventure, featuring a long bus ride to the airport through driving snow, customs delays, and a three-and-a-half hour flight. The Sharks didn’t check into their team hotel until approximately 6 a.m. Saturday morning.
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Marc-Edourard Vlasic can only speak for himself, but indicated the team’s energy level should be fine by the 6 p.m. local start (4 p.m. PST) at United Center.
“Well, I have about a three hour nap this afternoon, so I’ll feel great tonight,” he said. “Yesterday we got in pretty early, or late, whichever you want. …They gave us the day off yesterday, we have a long nap today, so guys should feel – I don’t know about them, but I’ll feel great tonight after a three hour nap.”
The Blackhawks, who didn’t skate on Sunday morning, could welcome a quick turnaround after getting spanked in Nashville on Saturday night. Chicago brought a 7-0-1 record in its last eight into the Music City, but left with a 7-2 defeat, easily its worst loss of the season.
Like the Sharks, Chicago will be playing its third game in four nights.
“It will be interesting to see the pace, and who can establish and maintain that pace,” Todd McLellan said.
The Blackhawks won all three games against the Sharks in 2013, outscoring them 11-5 in the process. All three came before Doug Wilson’s “reset/refresh” just prior to the trade deadline, though, when the Sharks were able to find an identity and surged into the postseason as one of the hottest teams in hockey.
A Sharks-Blackhawks Western Conference final rematch nearly happened, but the Kings squeaked by San Jose in the second round in a seven-game series. This will be the first meeting between Chicago and San Jose since Feb. 22.
The Sharks and Blackhawks enter as the top two NHL teams in scoring, as each has 70 goals through 20 games, an average of 3.5 per game.
“It’s a big challenge,” Vlasic said. “They have a lot of motion, a lot of skill on the back end. We’ll have to be aware in the d-zone, and our forwards will have to keep their heads on a swivel. We’ve played well defensively, and we’ve got to keep that up.”
Since beginning the season with a 10-1-1 mark, San Jose is 3-1-4 in its last eight, going winless in five straight but then winning its last three.
McLellan indicated that the team is still searching for the game that is had at the start of the season.
“We’re not there yet, but we’re trying to get to that,” he said. “It’s a hard, taxing game to play for a full season. Sometimes the guys let themselves off the hook, and it’s our job to keep pushing them. We’re trying to play faster.”
Perhaps a game against the defending Stanley Cup champions will allow them to do just that, provided their tanks are full.
“They’re a championship caliber team,” McLellan said. “They’ve proven that for the last [several] years. Championship caliber teams don’t come in and drag their lips. I think we can expect their best.”
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McLellan indicated there could be some lineup changes against Chicago. Forward Marty Havlat, a healthy scratch on Friday, could be an option to get back in.
“There could be some changes,” McLellan said. “We’ll see after the skate how guys are feeling. We’re deep into this trip, and the trip can take its toll on a number of people. We’re checking on health and energy levels.”
Andrew Desjardins, who needed repairs after a third period high stick on Friday in Edmonton, is fine.