The Sharks have quietly won six straight at home as they look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead against the Blues.
Sharks goaltender Martin Jones hasn’t allowed a goal in 147:43 of ice time, and the last time San Jose lost at home was Game 3 of the Los Angeles Kings series back on April 18th.
Additionally, the first line has gained much recognition league-wide after Tomas Hertl’s two-goal performance Thursday night. The trio of Hertl, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton have 38 playoff points and combined for six points in Game 3.
The Blues haven’t figured out how to slow down the Sharks’ top line, or most of team teal for that matter, and coach Ken Hitchcock showed his desperation on Friday when he announced Jake Allen would start in the crease for Game 4 ahead of Brian Elliott.
The Blues’ current mess shouldn’t be placed at all on Elliott, who has been brilliant in the playoffs, and received literally zero offensive support in his last two games, yet Hitchcock most likely made the move to provide a change of scenery in an effort to motivate his team.
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However, nobody knows if and how Hitchcock will shuffle his lineup until the final hours before puck drop. The Blues have seemingly run out of options to get out of the scoring slump they have found themselves in.
Players to Watch
Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko. The Russian sniper has been given very little breathing room by the Sharks when in the offensive zone. He has failed to post a point in the series and threw just two shots on net Wednesday night. He scored six and seven points against Chicago and Dallas, respectively, in his two previous series.
The Sharks have done fantastic work locking up most of the Blues offensive playmakers, but Tarasenko is the most deadly of those for the ‘Notes who will need to get some production from their All-World caliber player.
Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Vlasic is an Olympian and will be a member of Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey in September, yet he is often overlooked. He won’t be seen on the scoreboard nearly as often as fellow blue-liner Brent Burns, but Vlasic is one of those players who does all of the dirty work that doesn’t appear on the stat sheet. The long-time Shark has yet to register a point in the trio of games, but he holds a plus-two rating in the series, is averaging 23:28 of ice time in the postseason and blocked five shots in Game 3. Vlasic has been an unsung hero and will look to keep up his stellar defense on Saturday.
Keys to the Game
1. Score in the First Period
This is Allen’s first start for the Blues in the playoffs and his first start since April 3rd. If San Jose can get at least one goal in the opening 20 minutes to not only get the tank rocking, but also shake Allen’s confidence early on that would make a huge difference.
2. Strong Back-Checking on David Backes
The Blues captain is having his best postseason of his career and has often been a spark for the Blues when they need it most. Backes scored in the series opener and has 13 points in the playoffs, almost all of which have come on deflections and dirty work in front of the crease.
He has two game-winning overtime goals in the playoffs and his clutch factor has been higher than anyone on the team. If Tarasenko can’t get going, Backes will do whatever he can to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net. San Jose should keep doing what their doing on the 32 year-old winger – playing physical and not letting him get to scoring areas around the net.
3. Don’t Change Anything
Before the series, I said the Sharks had found their mojo in Game 7 of the Nashville series that they had all Kings series, and would keep up that confidence in these conference finals and win in five. They have done exactly that so far and could very well be up 3-0 in the series if not for some sloppy plays in Game 1.
Still, they are one win away from forcing the ‘Notes to win three straight games to win the series and advancing to their first Cup Finals in franchise history. There is very, very little chance San Jose dominates on Saturday like they did in the previous two contests against an angry Blues team, but the Sharks have played so well there is no reason to play any differently from how they did in Game 3.