CHICAGO - Jonathan Toews has earned the name "Captain Serious," a 22-year-old star for the Chicago Blackhawks who senses how close his team is to reaching the Stanley Cup finals while realizing just how difficult it can be to get there.
A year ago, the Blackhawks were knocked out of the Western Conference finals in five games by Detroit, an experience that ripened a young team.
Now the Blackhawks have a three-games-to-none lead over San Jose and can complete a sweep Sunday for the franchise's first appearance in the finals since 1992 - when Toews was 4.
"When you get to the conference finals like last year, you get that close - even though we were only about halfway to winning a Stanley Cup last year - you still feel pretty close," said Toews, who has a point in a club-record 12 straight playoff games.
"It's kind of a teaser. Makes you want to win that much more. You feel like you got so much to lose when you're in a position like we are this year. Every game is so stressful, it's tough to go to sleep at night thinking about it."
The series with the Sharks, the regular-season champions in the West, has been fast-paced, physical, and oh, so close. Chicago won two on the Sharks' home ice and then pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory Friday night on Dustin Byfuglien's goal.
"It doesn't feel like a 3-0 series, but it is," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said.
His team members were about as relaxed as could be Saturday.
"We have no other choice but to be loose. We're down three games in this series, and we understand that position," defenseman Rob Blake said. "But if we sit there and dwell and look at the big picture, it looks bleak, obviously, so we accept things."
Blake said the Sharks don't have to do too much differently - just make some minor adjustments, get better rebound chances against stellar Chicago goalie Antti Niemi, and maybe spruce up their power play. They were 1 for 6 with the advantage Friday.
San Jose can also look at some recent history to size up where it is: The Flyers came from down three games to none to beat Boston.
And the Sharks led the Red Wings, three games to none, in the Western semifinals, were routed, 7-1, in Game 4 and then clinched the series in five games. McLellan reminded his team of that series when he met with the players Saturday.