Sharks must hit next gear to make final stand

CHICAGO -- While most of his teammates are talking about staying the course in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, San Jose captain Rob Blake said Saturday he doesn't think the Sharks have deserved anything but the 0-3 hole they find themselves in.

"I don't think so," Blake told "We haven't played the best. We have put ourselves in this position, so can I say we deserve better? No. We're in this position for a reason and we understand that."

They've got a long uphill climb to get out of it, but they can start the trek Sunday afternoon at United Center. On the other hand, the Chicago Blackhawks hope they have enough left in them to keep this good team down.

A heartbeat is the last thing the Hawks can afford to give San Jose right now.

With that in mind, here are the Five Factors heading into Game 4, possibly the final game of the season for San Jose and maybe also the final game in teal for soon-to-be-unrestricted free agents Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov.

1. Final stand -- The Sharks have done a lot in the past six weeks to erase their reputation as a soft playoff team. Rolling over Sunday would give fans and media alike enough fodder for that reputation to bubble back up to the surface. San Jose can be satisfied with its effort, but that's about it. The Sharks have to find another level, another gear if they want to earn the right to play Game 5. That means a proven goal scorer like Dany Heatley might have to find the net, finally. That means Nabokov has to make that one tough save, the kind that his counterpart in the other net, Antti Niemi, has made all series. That means the Sharks can't in any way feel they've deserved a thing in this series.

2. Niemi to the rescue -- Provided San Jose does put up that final stand and comes hard at Chicago, the Blackhawks will again need Niemi to bail them out. He's been unbelievable all series, not only with his marvelous saves (especially with his glove), but with his unflappable composure. Nothing seems to rattle this guy. He made 44 saves look easy Friday night just like he made the same amount of stops look like a breeze in Game 1 last Sunday. He might have to do it again in Game 4, but Chicago has come to expect that from the Finn.

3. Finding Joey P. -- Joe Pavelski was such a big reason why the Sharks ousted Colorado in six and wiped out Detroit in five, but he's been nothing more than average against the Blackhawks and that has to change in Game 4. When Pavelski produces at even strength, or at the very least is a threat to score, the pressure on Joe Thornton is somewhat relieved. In the conference final, Pavelski has only one assist and he's winning less than 50 percent of his faceoffs. He has to find a way to be a bigger factor Sunday.

4. Minor details -- The Blackhawks will do themselves a big favor if they stay out of the penalty box Sunday. Thirteen of San Jose's 46 shots in Game 3 came when it was on the power play. Contrarily, Chicago gave up only one power play chance in Game 2 and the Sharks had only 27 shots, by far their fewest in the three games so far. The recipe is simple: If the Hawks want to cut down on the rubber Niemi sees, stop hooking, holding and tripping the Sharks, who, by the way, are clicking at 25 percent on the power play.

5. Following Marleau's lead -- The Sharks have five goals in this series and Patrick Marleau has the last four. The only other guy to score is Jason Demers, who played all of five minutes and 14 seconds in Game 3 -- a game that was played into the 72nd minute. Someone in teal -- and it doesn't really matter who at this point -- has to jump in and help Marleau out in the scoring department. If you want to win at this time of the year, you can't just have one guy going. Heatley, Thornton, Pavelski, Ryane Clowe, Devin Setoguchi, Dan Boyle -- we're looking at you in particular.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl