If the San Jose Sharks want to make the Western Conference Final a series, they'll have to do two things:
1. Be more disciplined
2. Score at even strength
And if the Vancouver Canucks want to close this out quick, here's what they'll have to do:
1. Change nothing
That's easier said than done, especially when we've seen wild fluctuations in the caliber of play from the Canucks. However, as a team, the Canucks are doing both the big and little things right.
Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin have rediscovered their cycle game, and a big part of that comes with Alain Vigneault being able to get the Sedins out against San Jose's less-defensive-savvy lines. Vancouver's third line is giving the Sharks fits, and the vaunted Canuck blueline is doing its job creating offense and hitting the San Jose forecheckers.
Winning the first two games at home is a far cry from winning the series, and it's reasonable for San Jose to win the next two at HP Pavilion to make it a best-of-three. However, coach Todd McLellan has a far bigger task ahead of him.
It starts with (hopefully) getting healthy. Kent Huskins isn't getting the job done filling in for an ailing Jason Demers. Demers has developed into a solid two-way defenseman, while Huskins isn't exactly fleet of foot when on his best days. Right now, the Sharks start the game strong but falter somewhere around the halfway point before getting completely run over by Vancouver to finish the game.
Survival starts from the blueline out; Antti Niemi's save percentage doesn't reflect quite how under-fire he's been so far this series.
Of course, staying out of the penalty box would help. Ben Eager can be a quality third or fourth-line skater who contributes crushing hits and some reasonable skill. The knock on the big guy all along has been his lack of discipline, and he took two critical penalties in Game 2. Had those two penalties not happened, things might have gone completely differently instead of resulting in a blowout.
Eager's not the only one guilty of being undisciplined, though. From top to bottom, the Sharks have to be on the right side of the aggression line -- hitting, but not cheating, and certainly not taking brainless slew-foot penalties like Eager has been.
In most cases, penalties are drawn by hustling and Canucks players moving their feet. That hasn't happened just yet with the Sharks, and while they've been successful so far in scoring on the power play, they can't assume that the number of penalties will always even out. Thus, it comes down to even-strength scoring, and while everyone pointed at Patrick Marleau as the goat in the second round, Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski have failed to ignite their lines into any consistency.
San Jose's much-lauded forward depth has been nullified against Vancouver; at their best, the top line (Joe Thornton-Marleau-Devin Setoguchi) plays with skill and speed, the second line (Clowe-Dany Heatley-Logan Couture) uses a punishing cycling game, and the third line (Kyle Wellwood-Pavelski-Torrey Mitchell) cycle with speed and crafty stickwork. That's simply not coming through, as Vancouver has draped a blanket over the Sharks.
For Vancouver, it's simple: stay the course, don't take dumb penalties, and keep skating hard.
For the Sharks, they've talked all season long about their ability to bounce back from adversity. If they win Game 3 in San Jose, it's an entirely different series. If they lose, well, then they haven't really accomplished anything more than what they did last year.
For more on the NHL's Western Conference Final, check in with our Sharks vs. Canucks series hub, as well as our blogs: Fear The Fin covering the Sharks and Nucks Misconduct covering the Canucks. You can find more local coverage at SB Nation Bay Area and Battle of California.