Hawks know stakes vs. Sharks

Patrick Marleau leads the Sharks with 35 goals this season. Harry How/Getty Images

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- On to the main course.

Through the first six games of this extended road trip, the San Jose Sharks have been in the back of the back burner for the Chicago Blackhawks. Now they can move to the front.

The series finale between these teams will be Thursday, and the Western Conference lead will be on the line. The Hawks know the stakes.

“We’ve pretty much been going head to head with them every night,” Jonathan Toews said in the dressing room after the Hawks' win 4-2 win over Edmonton on Tuesday. “You check the standings, and it’s a bit of [back and forth] with them. Every time they go up two points we seem to catch them, or it’s the other way around.”

The Sharks are two points ahead of the Hawks and have won five in a row. And how about this for a mental and physical edge: San Jose has been off since Saturday while the Hawks are playing their seventh of an eight-game road trip. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is doing his best Sigmund Freud.

“We [should] play like it’s the first game,” Quenneville said. “It’s an important game. We should be ready. We know they are going to be ready to play us. It should make for an important contest.”

The Hawks have won two of three in the season series, but even in the loss, 3-2 at the United Center on Dec. 22, they dominated much of the play, outshooting San Jose 47-14.

Quenneville talked about players regaining some scoring confidence in the win over Edmonton. It was the first time they had reached three goals -- without an empty netter -- since playing in Detroit in the second game of the road trip. Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien each garnered points against the Oilers to break a drought by the third line, while Patrick Kane’s two assists put him over 200 points for his career. They will need all hands on deck in the season series finale against San Jose.