VANCOUVER, B.C. -- The Western Conference Finals might end earlier than anyone predicted before the series began.
Vancouver has a 3-1 lead after a 4-3 win in Game 4 at HP Pavilion on Sunday. The Canucks won the first two games of the series on home ice and are 6-3 in front of their fans in the playoffs.
The Sharks historically don't go quietly when faced with a 3-1 deficit. They've been in this position three times, but pushed the series to six games twice (2008 against Dallas and 2009 against Anaheim). But they are 0-2 when facing elimination in the Western Conference Finals.
Something has to give in Game 5 Tuesday at Rogers Arena (9 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC, RDS), but several questions will first have to be answered:
1. Do the Sharks have any life left in them?
Joe Thornton is banged up. Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski have given the Sharks a whole lot of nothing through four games. Antti Niemi is coming off a game in which he allowed four goals on 13 shots. San Jose's power play has gone into hibernation.
No, it does not look good for Todd McLellan's team, but that doesn't mean the season ends Tuesday night.
For everything that went wrong in Game 4, including the 0-for-5 on the power play in the game's first 24 minutes and the NHL record three 5-on-3 goals allowed, San Jose closed the game in a positive way by scoring twice in the final 13 minutes. The Sharks also peppered Roberto Luongo with 35 shots on goal, including 17 in the third period.
Yes, it was a loss -- but no, it wasn't all that bad. The Sharks have to look at their third period in Game 4 as a building block going into Game 5.
"If you watch the playoffs this year momentum is game to game, so if you want to build momentum you do it with a good start," Sharks left wing Ryane Clowe told NHL.com. "I don't think momentum from the last game means anything. If anything it might show us what things we need to do 5-on-5, but as far as momentum, we need to create that in the first 10 minutes tonight."
2. Can a clearly injured Thornton be a factor?
Thornton is showing a lot of guts by playing in Game 5 after suffering what looked like a separated shoulder in Game 4. He has to be in serious pain, yet he knows it's the playoffs and says now is the time when you have to lay it all on the line.
He deserves credit. Actually, what he's about to do Tuesday night demands credit. But it's also fair to ask if it's the right decision.
If Thornton is playing with basically one healthy shoulder as we suspect, then how effective is he going to be on faceoffs? How strong will he be when he's getting bodied up by Ryan Kesler?
This is not an injury that's hidden. Everybody knows what it is. Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa said that much when he was asked if Vancouver should be extra physical on Thornton because he's hurting.
"I don't think we really focus on his shoulder too much," Bieksa said, almost emphasizing that he knew it was a shoulder injury. "He's a pretty hard guy to hit as it is, pretty slippery. If I get a chance to put him through the boards I do that regardless if he has a sore shoulder or not."
Thornton is definitely better than any other option the Sharks have right now and maybe his presence will be an inspiration for his teammates. You have to assume that seeing a healthy player who sees his captain playing hurt, essentially with one arm, will be motivated to bring his best as well.
3. Is Dany Heatley fried or does he have a world-class performance left in him this season?
Put out the APB because Heatley has disappeared. Formerly one of the game's most prolific goal scorers, Heatley has only 3 goals and 9 points in 17 playoff games this year. He has the same amount of points as defenseman Ian White, who has played in one fewer game.
Heatley, who has a single assist and eight shots on goal against the Canucks, has not been hard on the puck or strong in his attempts to seek out scoring chances. He was demoted to the third line in the third period of Game 4.
"Just find a way," Heatley said when asked what he has to do to create chances for himself. "You can look at all the technical stuff, but it doesn't matter. I just have to find a way to get in the open, get shots, get chances -- bottom line."
If the Sharks are going to win one more game this season, they're going to need Heatley on board. He's too big, too skillful and too important to the club to not show up in the Western Conference Finals.
"We often say that as a coaching staff about individual players, 'What more can we do with them?' " McLellan said. "That's a copout as a coaching staff. We have to find ways to make them better, help them. It's up to us to sit with Dany, work with him a little bit, try to find a way to put him in successful situations. Then again, ultimately he has to find a way to do that and produce."
4. How do the Sharks stop the Sedin twins now?
Henrik and Daniel are clicking like it's the regular season, when the opponent changes on a night-to-night basis and the scouting isn't as focused and narrowed as it should be right now. They have combined for 15 points in this series, including 10 for Henrik and 5 for Daniel. San Jose simply hasn't figured out how to defend these two and it's absolutely killing the Sharks.
To be fair, defending them successfully right now may be impossible. The twins are in a groove. They are playing off each other better than they have at any point in these playoffs.
However, the Sharks have to find a way Tuesday night to slow them down. The best way is to keep the puck off their sticks and make them play defense. Sure it's easier said than done, but what other choice does San Jose have?
"We can't give them chances on the power play because they have most of their points on the power play," Sharks forward Ryane Clowe told NHL.com. "That's where they've been having success in this series against us, so we have to be more disciplined and not give them those opportunities, especially 5-on-3s. In 5-on-5 we've done a pretty good job against the Sedins."
5. Will Christian Ehrhoff play for Vancouver? Will Jason Demers play for San Jose?
Ehrhoff, who missed Game 4 with a shoulder injury, did not take part in the Canucks' practice at Rogers Arena Tuesday morning. He looked pretty good during his hard skate Monday, when three-quarters of the healthy lineup decided to take the day off, so it's too early to rule him out for Game 5.
Demers hasn't played yet in this series. He said he's been out with bumps and bruises to his upper body, but he's 100 percent ready to go now and McLellan said "there is a chance" he will play. Demers said he would not have been able to honestly tell the coach he was ready to go in any of the previous games in this round, but now he can.
"I'm back ready to go, so it's a matter of when," Demers said.
If Demers is able to play, he'll likely go in for Kent Huskins. That should be an easy decision for McLellan even though Huskins hasn't been bad in this series. Huskins was the guy who replaced Demers in the lineup for Game 1.
If Ehrhoff is healthy enough to go, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault will have to make two decisions: 1) Is it worth playing him in a game that technically is not a must-win game for the Canucks? 2) If it is, then who between veteran left-handed defenseman Keith Ballard and rookie righty Chris Tanev moves up to the press box?
Ehrhoff is a left-handed shot just like Ballard, but he can play the right side. Vigneault is not comfortable with Ballard playing the right side, but Ehrhoff played on that side when he was with Aaron Rome, so the coach knows he can do it and that way he can keep Ballard in on the left and make that his third pair.
Ballard said Tuesday morning that he is going to play, but things can easily change between now and the start of Game 5.
6. How loud will Rogers Arena get?
The Canucks' home building usually rocks in the regular season and it has been even louder in the playoffs. With a berth in the Stanley Cup Final on the line, the noise inside Rogers Arena may be heart-stopping Tuesday night.
To understand how big this is for the people in Vancouver and really all of British Columbia, understand that the Canucks had a reported 4,000 fans make the trip to San Jose for Game 4 on Sunday. They chanted "O Canada" during warm-ups and tried to sing along with the anthem singer prior to the game, though he was going a bit too slow for the group that is used to Mark Donnelly's in-arena rendition.
It was quite a scene and something you have to assume will only be magnified times 100 Tuesday night when 18,860 fill up the building at 800 Griffiths Way.
"This city hasn't been a part of this a lot of time," Henrik Sedin said. "It's been twice and they've been waiting for a long time. We have, too, so it's going to be great."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl