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Sharks try to stay optimistic after Game 3 loss

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CHICAGO -- Todd McLellan broke up his Big Three on Friday night to eliminate the effectiveness of the Blackhawks checking line.

It almost worked.

San Jose threw 46 shots on Chicago goalie
Antti Niemi, and it's hard to find fault with the purpose behind at least 90 percent of them.

It wasn't enough.

Evgeni Nabokov and Patrick Marleau, two of the poster boys for the Sharks' playoff failures in recent years, were San Jose's best players again in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.

It didn't matter.

The Sharks have tried just about everything at this point, done about all they could to solve the streaking Blackhawks -- and still they find themselves in an 0-3 hole heading into Game 4 Sunday afternoon at the United Center.

What now?

"We know what now," a stoic and still extraordinarily confident, at least on the outside, McLellan said after Chicago's 3-2 overtime win at United Center. "What now is to regroup and come back with the same effort. There's really nothing else we can do.

"The reality is we're down 3-0," the coach continued. "It happened a week ago with two good teams playing and Philadelphia found a way to come back, so there's something to draw in there."

You're going to hear that "Philly did it" stuff a lot over the next, say, 36 hours before the puck drops in Game 4. And, yes, it's true the Flyers just became the third team in NHL history to win a series after falling into a 0-3 hole. It's also true that the Flyers were in every game against the Boston Bruins before finally breaking through in Game 4.

But do any of you really believe that something that hadn't happened in 35 years and had happened only twice in 68 years can happen twice in the same month?

"Why not, eh?" Ryane Clowe said while sitting in front of his locker stall late Friday.

You know what -- he's right; why not? Anyone who has watched this series closely, at least Games 1 and 3, will be able to come up with at least one argument that suggests the Sharks can do it, even if their odds seem so astronomically long.

This is not the case of one team dominating to put itself in position for a sweep. The Sharks have been maybe one small step behind the Blackhawks, if that. They've lost two games because Niemi has won them and
Dustin Byfuglien has burned them.

"If we throw close to 50 shots on him again, something is going to give," center Joe Pavelski said. "If we play like that, work hard and earn the power plays I think we can win a game, and right now all we're trying to do is earn another game."

All the stats suggest the Sharks should have already done that.

San Jose is outshooting the Blackhawks 118-100, including 29-2 on the power play -- but Chicago has scored on both. They've earned six more power plays in the series and have scored one power-play goal in every game.

The Sharks also own a 99-93 edge in faceoffs, though they were outdrawn 43-32 in Game 3. They have the leading goal-scorer in the series (Marleau with four). Save for the second period in Game 2, when they were clearly outplayed, San Jose has been in every single minute of this series.

And all that means what, exactly?

"We have to play better to beat this team," center Joe Thornton said. "That's the bottom line."

But, can they? That's probably the best question of all right now.

"I'd like to see our power-play a little bit sharper," McLellan said.

OK, the Sharks are 25 percent in the series, but they were 0-for-3 in the third period Friday night when the game was still tied 1-1. A goal there and the game is totally different -- and maybe the outcome, too.

They also might want to consider following Marleau's lead.
Not only is the former captain finding himself in scoring position just about every time the puck finds him, but Marleau is lifting the bulk of his shots, too. He's solved Niemi that way. Apparently no one in teal is noticing.

"He's being opportunistic," defenseman Dan Boyle said, "something the rest of us being right now."

Really, though, that's about it. Shooting high and converting with a timely power-play goal is the extent of the look-in-the-mirror evaluation the Sharks could conjure up Friday night.

They've played well enough to win at least one of these games, if not two. That's why you didn't see one sour-puss in the dressing room mere minutes after "Chelsea Dagger" was done blaring through the arena.

"We thought we were going to win this game and we certainly played well enough to," Boyle said. "Obviously the odds are against us now, but there will be no quit in this locker room, that's for sure."

No one expects there to be any, but you have to wonder if this is just San Jose's fate this season. They've dropped six of seven games to the Blackhawks dating back to the regular season -- so maybe, just maybe, even knowing how close and good they've been in this series, they are simply the second-best team on the ice.

No matter how they got there, 3-0 is hard to argue with.

What now? Who knows?

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