As we ascend into the conference finals, fans are finding it easier to speculate over who could possibly raise the Stanley Cup over their heads in June.
Exhausted at the monotony of seeing the same teams vying for and winning the Stanley Cup year after year, many rejoiced with the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, winners of the last four Stanley Cups, each having early first round exits. Hope was given for the crowning of a new champion—a much needed jolt to playoff hockey.
Sharks and Blues: A Refreshing Change to the Stanley Cup Picture
The Western Conference will crown a new champion in 2016. The Stanley Cup has evaded both San Jose and St. Louis, though the latter has played in three finals, losing to the Canadiens twice (1968, 1969) and the Bruins once (1970).
The Eastern Conference is a different story as both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins have won a Stanley Cup in the 2000’s (Tampa Bay 2004, Pittsburgh 2009).
So many fans are pursuing a new Stanley Cup champion this year, and they are limited in their options to rooting for either the Blues or the Sharks, both in which aren’t fan favorites during the regular season.
Many fans cringe at the thought of the Blues throwing a parade this summer and and don’t want to see another California team contend for the Cup because it’s “a bad hockey market,” which is absolutely ridiculous to say.
Who has the best odds to represent the West?
The Sharks ousted the favored Los Angeles Kings in five games and blew out the Nashville Predators with a 5-0 Game 7 triumph on home ice. They’re 5-1 at home, and have all weapons firing in these playoffs. The sharks boast playoff league-leaders in goals (Joe Pavelski, 9 goals, 4 assists), assists (Brent Burns, 11), points (Logan Couture, 17), power-play goals (Couture and Pavelski, 4), and goals created (Couture, 6.5). Logan Couture leads the playoffs with 17 points ( 7G, 10A ).
Also adding to their fire power are Joonas Donskoi with 7 points, Tomas Hertl with 5, Joel Ward with 7, and alternate captain Joe Thornton, who has 11 points ( 3G, 8A ).
The Blues have had their own offensive success as well, and it’s not just their top players chipping in. David Backes has had a good playoffs thus far with 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists), with Patrick Berglund chipping in with 8 points of his own (4 goals, 4 assists). Troy Brouwer has tallied 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists), Vladimir Tarasenko has 13 points ( 7 goals, 6 assists), and Robby Fabbri has added 13 points ( 3 goals, 10 assists).
With each team boasting several quality lines that can find the net, it will be incredibly hard on each team’s defense. While the Sharks’ offensive depth might have a slight edge on the Blues, can goaltender Martin Jones keep the Blues from scoring?
The series may come down to goaltending, with Martin Jones and Brian Elliot each having the arduous task of limiting goals. There is a lot of fire power in both locker rooms, and it’s going to be a challenge to deny either team from scoring.
Martin Jones has a 8-4-3 record in 12 games this postseason and has been phenomenal for the Sharks. It’s his first year starting after leaving the Kings, and he’s proven to be a fantastic acquisition. He sports a 2.16 goals against average and a .918 save percentage, which is impressive considering the offensive talent he’s faced. If he continues to play at a high level against Vladmir Tarasenko and the Blues, the Sharks could be finding themselves on hockey’s biggest stage.
Brian Elliott led the NHL in save percentage with a .930 this season. With the exception of game 6 against the Stars, he’s been strong throughout the playoffs as well. If he is able to continue to play at the level that has seen him put up a .929 save percentage so far this post-season, he will make things very difficult for the Sharks.
Despite Vegas siding with the Blues with a +200, the series should prove a fairly even match-up. But much to the delight of many fans, no matter who wins the Western Conference Final, there will be a new team contending for Lord Stanely’s Mug.