Blackhawks-Sharks: The Game of the Year

Where will you be Thursday night?

Thursday night will be the biggest game on the NHL schedule in 2010. The Blackhawks (36-13-4, 76 pts) travel to San Jose to play the Sharks (35-10-8, 78 pts) in a matchup that could ultimately not only determine the winner of the President’s Trophy, but who has home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Blackhawks and Sharks have clearly emerged as the top of the Western Conference, as Colorado and Vancouver are both 10 points behind Chicago for second place in the conference. Considering there will be 15 Olympians on the ice, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

On paper, these two teams are not only incredibly good, but are also so similar it’s scary.

  • Scoring: Chicago – 3.19 g/gm (fourth); San Jose – 3.28 g/gm (second)
  • Defense: Chicago – 2.23 g/gm (second); San Jose – 2.40 g/gm (fifth)
  • Goal Differential: Chicago – +52; San Jose – +51
  • Power Play: Chicago – 21.3 (sixth); San Jose – 21.6 (fifth)
  • PK: Chicago – 85.6 (fourth); San Jose – 87.9 (first)

With both teams having 53 games played, and their statistical resumes being as impressive as they are, it’s no wonder they’re separated by only two points for the top of the NHL standings.

The two teams have met three times this year, with the home team losing each of the last two games.

On Nov. 15 in the United Center, it was Brent Seabrook finding the back of the net only 41 seconds into overtime to get close out a big homestand for the Hawks.

On Nov. 25, in San Jose, Marian Hossa played for the Blackhawks for the first time and the Hawks blitzed the Sharks our of their own building with a devastating 7-2 victory. In that game, the Blackhawks scored their first three goals shorthanded en route to one of their biggest wins of the season.

On Dec. 22, in Chicago, the Sharks pulled off an improbably win. The Blackhawks outshot the Sharks 47-14 and lost 3-2 in a game that was arguably the best effort from San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov all season.

In this, the fourth and final game between the two, everything will be on the line.

The Blackhawks come into the game nearing the end of a long road trip, with this being their seventh of eight games. A solid win against Edmonton on Tuesday night got the Hawks back on track after a rough patch of games that included losses in Ottawa and Vancouver. Chicago is 6-3-1 in their last ten.

Meanwhile, the Sharks are 8-1-1 in their last ten games and are playing perhaps their best hockey of the season. They have outscored their opponents 26-7 in their last five games, and Nabokov has only allowed more than two goals twice in January.

The only game left on the NHL calendar that could potentially carry as much weight as this matchup is when the Washington Capitals visit the United Center on March 14. With the season series and probably the top seed in the Western Conference on the line, is without a doubt the biggest regular season game in the NHL in 2010.

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