Hawks happy to be home. Really

CanWest News Service
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NHL PLAYOFFS/WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

You've seen these stories in playoffs past: Stanley Cup parade plans leak out before the last game has been won. The arrogance! Or the top-secret revelation that the team coming into your town to finish you off had already packed big suitcases for the trip to the next round. Locals outraged!

Usually, they're mountains out of molehills, built on snippets of meaningless information by a desperate team grasping at straws.

Here in Chicago, though - down 2-0 in the NHL's Western Conference final with most of the free world dismissing them with a terse "Here we go again" - the San Jose Sharks don't have to mine the papers or catch too many talk shows to find bulletin-board material. They just need to wet a finger - the middle one, Dan Boyle suggests - and hold it up in the air.

Joel Quenneville

Chicago -

You've seen these stories in playoffs past: Stanley Cup parade plans leak out before the last game has been won. The arrogance! Or the top-secret revelation that the team coming into your town to finish you off had already packed big suitcases for the trip to the next round. Locals outraged!

Usually, they're mountains out of molehills, built on snippets of meaningless information by a desperate team grasping at straws.

Here in Chicago, though - down 2-0 in the NHL's Western Conference final with most of the free world dismissing them with a terse "Here we go again" - the San Jose Sharks don't have to mine the papers or catch too many talk shows to find bulletin-board material. They just need to wet a finger - the middle one, Dan Boyle suggests - and hold it up in the air.

Hawk Fever is blowing a gale in the Windy City. Mountains of love are descending on the Chicago Blackhawks from the long-starved faithful, who sense that this riveting young team is on the verge of playing for the town's first Cup in 49 years.

Still, Chicago, as everyone knows by now, is 7-1 on the road this post-season but just 3-3 at home - and as much as the Sharks might want to cling to that statistic, Joel Quenneville's Blackhawks are equally eager to shed it.

So the Hawks, for the first time, will take day-rooms at a local hotel today after the morning skate, and have their afternoon nap there, hoping a change in routine will release them from the inexplicable tension, or adrenalin rush, or complacency that has made them far less dangerous at United Center than the electric atmosphere would seem to suggest.

" I know there's excitement in the city, which is great," said Quenneville. "Everybody's noticing, everybody's talking about it. It's a fun situation. (But) it's something that on a day like today you want to guard against - where everybody is telling you how great you are."

The Hawks haven't played at home in 12 days, and when last they did, they lost 4-1 to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 5. It made no sense then, and doesn't now, but heading into Thursday's game in Montreal, it was completely consistent with what's happened leaguewide: road teams have a 41-37 record.

"I don't think you can get to this point if you're vulnerable at home against good teams," said Sharks captain Rob Blake, pooh-poohing the idea the Hawks have issues playing in their noisy barn.

"All the stats tell you is wins and losses. To us, we've got to win Game 3, whether it's at home or on the road, we have to take charge."

If it's adrenalin that has caused problems for home teams, Blake said he could understand it to an extent.

"When you skate out for warm-up and they're announcing the starting lineup and they're cheering your names, you get that excitement," he said, "but at the same time, when you come in here and you hear the anthem tomorrow night, you're going to feel that adrenalin whether you're on the Blackhawks or the Sharks."

Boyle, the fractious blueliner who has the sort of innate grit that coach Todd McLellan might wish on a number of his more talented forwards - and perhaps his goaltender - naturally dismissed the whole home-team/road-team argument. Naturally, that is, because he pretty much disagrees with everything.

"It means absolutely nothing," said the Team Canada stalwart. "This is another round, another series. It doesn't matter what their home record is. We're aware of it, we don't care about it.

"At this point, it's not about them or whatever they're doing, it's about us."

This much is clear, though: the Sharks are groping for clues, and the Hawks' game is in a very good place, even if home ice has not been . . . well, a very good place.

"Everything seems to be a little more clear, and a little more simple when you're winning games," said Toews.

"Maybe you should kind of search for answers even when you are winning, but you tend to do it a little more when you lose two games. I'm sure we can expect them to fight like dogs tomorrow night. I think we have to play it like a Game 7."

"That's a good attitude for them to have," said Boyle.

"We were in this position against Detroit in the last round. You don't want to give them a pulse.

"Their game plan is to go up 3-0 and finish this off. Ours is obviously to get back into this thing. We'll get that pulse, and we'll grow from it, be a better team."

Vancouver Sun

Organizations: NHL, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks United Center Vancouver Canucks Team Canada

Geographic location: Chicago, Windy, Montreal Detroit Vancouver

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