Note: We will preview the Eastern Conference final tomorrow.
Sharks vs. (2) Blackhawks
Sharks Leading Postseason Scorer: Joe Pavelski (right), 15 points (nine goals, six assists).
Blackhawks Leading Postseason Scorer: Jonathan Toews, 20 points (six goals, 14 assists).
Sharks with Stanley Cup bling: Dan Boyle, Rob Blake, Kent Huskins, Niclas Wallin.
Blackhawks with Stanley Cup bling: Tomas Kopecky, Andrew Ladd, John Madden (2).
Something worthwhile about the Sharks: The Sharks are 6-0 in these playoffs when Joe Pavelski scores a goal.
Something worthwhile about the Blackhawks: Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has a career postseason points-per-game average of 1.14. That is the best mark in franchise history.
Something useless about the Sharks that is vaguely connected to the Penguins: Sharks forwards Joe Thornton (No. 1 by Boston) and Patrick Marleau (No. 2 by San Jose) were the first two draft picks of the 1997 NHL draft which was hosted by the Penguins at the 1997 NHL draft.
Something useless about the Blackhawks that is vaguely connected to the Penguins: Blackhawks and former Penguins forward Marian Hossa is appearing in a conference final for the third consecutive year with a third different team. He did so with the Penguins in 2008, the Red Wings in 2009 and now the Blackhawks. The last player to do this was Brian Propp. He appeared in conference finals for the Flyers (1989), Bruins (1990) and North Stars (1991).
Former Penguins on the Sharks: None.
Former Penguins on the Blackhawks: Marc Bergevin, director, player personnel; Denis Bonvie, professional scout; Scotty Bowman, senior advisor, hockey operations; Marian Hossa, RW; Norm MacIver, director, player development; Ed Olczyk, broadcaster; Dale Tallon, senior advisor, hockey operations.
Who needs to be the difference for the Sharks: Evgeni Nabokov. He's proven his critics (including us) wrong thus far in these playoffs. But he gets his biggest test to date as he faces a high-flying Blackhawks team which torched Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, a Vezina Trophy finalist, for an average of 4.6 goals per game in the semifinal round. Nabokov needs to steal a few goals and games for the Sharks.
Who needs to be the difference for the Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (right). These two are the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Blackhawks. They are the foundation of this franchise. They need to carry the load for Chicago offensively as they have through the first two rounds.
Best Sharks YouTube Video We Could Find: Current Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato scoring a really pretty goal against Coyotes goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin in the 1996-97 season:
Best Blackhawks YouTube Video We Could Find: Former Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios dropping the lid off the replica Norris Trophy he won at the 1993 NHL awards show:
EN Prediction: We just don't see Nabokov having enough against the Blackhawks' potent offense. We doubted him against the Red Wings in the semifinal round, and he proved us wrong. But the Blackhawks have a lot going right for them on offense right now. And we just don't see the Sharks' "Big Three" of Marleau, Thornton and Dany Heatley being able to figure out the Blackhawks' stellar blue line. Blackhawks 4-2.
(Photo: Pavelski-Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press; Kane-Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)