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San Jose Sharks vs. Chicago Blackhawks game preview

Sharks2.jpgSan Jose Sharks vs. Chicago Blackhawks 3:00 p.m. EDT, May 16, 2010 Live on NBC

Join us at 2:45 p.m. for a live chat during today’s game!

This is a series for redemption.

For the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s another chance to prove they belong in the Stanley Cup finals and to have one more shot to prove themselves as Western Conference champions. After being ousted last season by the Detroit Red Wings in just five games, the Hawks are back hungrier and deeper and are coming off yet another rousing series win over the Vancouver Canucks.

For the San Jose Sharks, just getting to this point is a victory. After four straight exits in the Conference semifinals, the Sharks became known as a team that could never put it together in the postseason and with the core players becoming older each season, likely never to figure it out soon.

This was a team made up of underachieving, highly paid players that wilted when the pressure was the greatest; now they’ve used their younger players to propel them to just one round from the Stanley Cup finals.

So now the Blackhawks and the Sharks faceoff, two teams fighting to get to a place where neither have come close to reaching. Granted, the Hawks were in the Stanley Cup finals in 1992, but that was a completely different era in hockey.

Trying to determine an edge in the series is tough, and it’s easy to think the Blackhawks have the momentum heading in. After all, this team has been here before and is coming off a dominant victory over the Vancouver Canucks -- a team many felt would give the Hawks a serious run for their money. The Hawks are also sporting a deeper team at forward than they did last season, if that’s possible, and the emergence of Dustin Byfuglien as a legitimate top line threat has made the Hawks a suddenly dangerous team.

For the Sharks the great play of Joe Pavelski has been able to finally take the pressure off of Joe Thornton, the scapegoat for all of the Sharks’ previous postseason troubles. The Sharks used deep scoring to take out the Red Wings in the second round, while the solid play of Evgeni Nabokov alleviated some of the fears that the goaltender had lost his edge after falling apart in the Olympics.

Logic says that this will be a hard fought, close series between two teams that are hungry to reach a finish line they have only sniffed to this point. They are nearly evenly matched, but the Sharks do have one advantage over the Blackhawks, that could prevent Chicago from ultimately wining this series:

They don’t have Marian Hossa on their team.