The St Louis Blues vs San Jose Sharks matchup is happening again, as they’ll meet in the Western Conference Final three years after they matched up in 2016. This is both teams’ first trip back to the third round since then. This is San Jose’s fourth appearance here in the past ten years; for the Blues, it’s only their second.
Road To The Western Conference Finals
St. Louis comes in having beaten the Dallas Stars in double overtime of Game 7 on a goal by hometown boy Patrick Maroon. They’ve been one of the best teams in the league since being dead last in January, and the play of Calder Trophy-nominated goaltender Jordan Binnington has electrified them. There’s plenty to cheer about in Missouri as the Blues try to take another step towards capturing their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
San Jose also comes in after a Game 7, a nail-biting 3-2 win marked by the return of captain Joe Pavelski from injury. This is two straight Game 7 wins for the Sharks, the other being their miraculous performance against the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round. They’ve also gotten stellar goaltending from Martin Jones, and Norris Trophy nominee Brent Burns is on an absolute tear.
This will inevitably be a very close series, decided by a few factors. What are they?
St Louis Blues vs San Jose Sharks Preview
St Louis’ Balanced Scoring
While some offensive weapons are on fire for the Blues (namely Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo with 11 points each), most of their scoring has spread consistently throughout the lineup. Middle-of-the-lineup players David Perron and Tyler Bozak (six points in 13 games) have more points than star winger Vladimir Tarasenko (five points).
There’s something to be said for getting this far without Tarasenko heating up. However, four other players on the team are also tied at five points, one of whom is rookie Robert Thomas, who has really helped drive the team’s play at points. But Tarasenko is a loaded gun ready to fire. If this balanced attack keeps up with a Tarasenko resurgence, this St. Louis offence could be near unbeatable.
O Captain, My Captain
Joe Pavelski is back in the lineup for the San Jose Sharks. His team seemed to like that.
While the Sharks have three players at a point-per-game and he’s not one of them, the jump and versatility that Pavelski brings to this lineup is invaluable. As shown by his earlier jaw injury in the playoffs and his first goal in Game 7 against Colorado, he’s not afraid to get to the front of the net and tip pucks in. Players like that are made for playoff hockey, as he’s absolutely fearless. And when the players taking shots from the point are the likes of Burns and Erik Karlsson, opposing goaltenders have many reasons to worry.
It’s well-known that emotional factors can be a huge part of a team’s play. Pavelski’s grit, determination, and leadership could be enough to fuel the Shark Tank to another Stanley Cup Final.
Martin Jones is Back in Form
Jones had a subpar regular season in goal for the Sharks. Through the first four games of the playoffs, that looked like it was going to continue. He put up a .838 SV% and a whopping 5.33 GAA through those games.
Since then: 7-3 record, .928 SV%, 2.13 GAA. Lights out, like he’s shown he can be in the playoffs before.
While the Sharks’ defence did a stellar job as well, Jones was definitely a big part in shutting down Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon. Whenever the Sharks had a defensive breakdown, Jones has always seemed to be there to bail them out. While obviously, some goals are going to get past him, he’s created a habit of making the big save when his team needs him to, which is certainly a momentum-builder for the Sharks and a heartbreaker for the opposition.
This really could be one of the closest series of these playoffs in a year that has seen many. Despite the stellar play of San Jose’s stars and goaltending, St. Louis has gotten balanced scoring, something the Sharks have failed to match (at least to the Blues’ level).
This is something that becomes of increasing importance further into the playoffs, as defensive prowess increases and star players get figured out. Depth pieces are often the ones that show up and decide the outcome of the series, and St. Louis seems to have better options. And while Martin Jones has played great hockey, Binnington for the Blues has certainly been doing his fair share.
St. Louis in seven games.