With two series victories under their belts against strong teams, the Sharks are capable of beating the Blues, but this will be their toughest test yet.
Coming into the matchup against the Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks fans most likely had very few negative things to say about their team following their flawless five-game series win over the Los Angeles Kings.
After losing three to the Predators, though, some of the Sharks’ weaknesses were exposed, and team teal was a loss away from getting bounced in round two. There are many reasons for the Sharks to be optimistic heading into the tilt with the St. Louis Blues, but this will be their biggest challenge yet against a Blues team who has series wins over the defending Stanley Cup champions and the highest-scoring team in the NHL.
Why the Sharks Will Advance:
1. Special Teams
The Sharks power play has been exceptional in these playoffs scoring on 30.9 percent of opportunities. That ranks second of all playoff teams and first among the four remaining clubs. The puck movement has been beautiful to watch led by Joe Thornton, and even when they don’t score on the man advantage they have still typically found success.
The Blues have also been successful on the power play, scoring on 27.5 percent of chances, but many of their goals have come from dirty work in front of the net and tip-ins. San Jose also has the edge in penalty kill percentage in the postseason. The Sharks have to play as physical as they did in Game 7 against Nashville, especially on the penalty kill not allowing the Blues to disrupt Martin Jones in front of the crease.
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2. They Have Found Their Groove at Home
Heading into the playoffs, the question was whether the Sharks could perform as well at home as they had on the road, and they have answered the bell. Team teal is 5-1 at the SAP Center in the postseason, and the tank has been rocking much more than it was in the regular season and has proven to be a very hard place for opponents to win.
3. Playoff Experience
This will be the third conference finals appearance as a member of the Sharks for many players. Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are all making their third Western Conference finals appearance as Sharks. Additionally, Marleau, Pavelski and Thornton are still without a Cup in their exceptional careers and will be as determined as anyone on the ice to get there. On the other hand, this is the first time all Blues players – besides Troy Brouwer and Steve Ott – have made a deep playoff run, and it will be interesting to see if they can continue their strong play.
Why The Sharks Won’t Advance:
1. The Blues Win on the Road, Too
The Notes hold the best road record of any playoff team at 5-1, and took all three in Dallas in front of a raucous crowd, including Game 7. This team seems to have more fun with the challenge of stealing games on road ice than at home and it has shown in the win/loss column. This isn’t to be totally unexpected, though, because the Blues went 25-11-5 away from the Scottrade Center in the regular season. That mark was second best in the league behind, you guessed it, the Sharks.
2. Brian Elliott
The names Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne may have more recognition and credentials than Elliott, but the former two had very underwhelming seasons and came into the playoffs off of disappointing play. Meanwhile, Elliott was one of the best goalies in the NHL throughout the campaign, with a 2.07 GAA (T-2nd in the NHL), and .930 save percentage (1st in the NHL). His stout play between the pipes has carried over into the playoffs with a .929 save percentage and 2.29 GAA. Jones has been great for the Sharks, but Elliott has been even better and has much more playoff experience.
3. The Blues Are No Kings or Predators
There’s no question San Jose is up against their toughest foe yet, as the Blues finished the season as the second-best team in the West and have arguably taken out tougher opponents in the playoffs than the Sharks. Each of their top three lines could be the first line on many teams in the league, and they are even deeper defensively than the Predators, with a complete group of six solid defensemen.
Vladimir Tarasenko is the best scorer the Sharks have faced in the playoffs and maybe the best goalscorer in the Western Conference, and David Backes has silenced doubters and captained the Blues to their first conference finals since 2001. The Sharks must play a more complete series than they did against the Predators if they want to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in team history.