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NHL Playoffs, Blackhawks vs. Sharks, Game 4: O Pavelski, where art thou?

Chicago Blackhawks vs. San Jose Sharks, Game 4 3:00 p.m. EDT, May 23, 2010 Live on NBC Blackhawks lead series 3-0

To be fair, this entire San Jose Sharks team has been immensely frustrated by the Blackhawks. They’ve scored just five goals in three games despite putting 118 shots on net between all three losses.

Yet you have to wonder: what happened to Joe Pavelski?

Pavelski, still the leading scorer in the playoffs for the Sharks, had nine goals and six assists in the first two series and became the answer for the question “how do the Sharks win if Joe Thornton struggles again?”

His dominant play in the second round against the Red Wings took the pressure off of Thornton and the other star players on the team, knowing that they wouldn’t be relied upon to provide all the offense once more. Pavelski’s emergence was also supposed to be the difference from past seasons, giving the Sharks the edge they needed to finally get over the wall they hit every year in the postseason.

His line in three games against the Blackhawks: 0 goals, 1 assist, 11 shots.

So now the Sharks are right back where they were, with Joe Thornton and the top line with all the pressure to score and once again failing to do so. The Hawks have used their checking line to perfection against Thornton, with Dave Bolland frustrating Thornton to an incredible degree.

With Pavelski failing to continue his hot play against the Blackhawks, here are the stats for the top players on the Sharks so far this series:

Joe Thornton - 0 goals, 1 assist; even.

Dany Heatley - 0 goals, 2 assists, minus-3

Dan Boyle - 0 goals, 5 assists, minus-1

Patrick Marleau - 4 goals, 1 assist, minus-3

Anything stand out about those numbers?

Pavelski’s struggles have played right into the hands of the Blackhawks, who have been able to stick their third line on Thornton and then let loose with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and company. The Sharks have yet to be able to respond, and Dustin Byfuglien’s performance is proof of just how valuable secondary scoring is the deeper you get into the playoffs (I understand he plays on the top line).

The Sharks are hoping to at least make this an interesting series and avoid the sweep this afternoon. Without Joe Pavelski (among others) actually stepping up, they won’t have anything resembling a chance of prolonging this series.