Every playoff matchup will receive a once-over prior to puck drop this week, including Bourne’s prediction, explanation and final thought on each. He does not hate your team. He does not love your team. He is just talking hockey.
Previously: #1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks
Season matchup: Blues swept the Sharks, 4-0
Who wins the series: Blues
How many games: Seven
Please do explain:
The Blues had a surprisingly good season after Ken Hitchcock took over for Davis Payne in the early going; at times they threatened for the President’s Trophy, and eventually they found themselves with home ice advantage and the two seed. There are a couple of reasons they are where they are.
First off, they’ve been Bachman-Turner Overdrive at home (they’ve taken care of business), racking up a 30-6-5 record in the Scottrade Center. Secondly, their defensive play and goaltending has been mind-bogglingly good. They have two goalies under 2.00 goals-against-average, and as a team lead the NHL by miles in goals-allowed-per-game, giving up a mere 1.87. They also gave up the least shots-per-game in the League, with an average of 26.7.
Those are some amazing defensive numbers. So will the Blues roll over the Sharks?
They will not.
The San Jose Sharks have won the most playoffs games in the NHL since the lockout, and currently have only one player on their roster, Tommy Wingels, with no playoff experience. They’ve been there before. They know what to expect. The Blues can’t say the same.
While at a glance it appears like the Sharks barely snuck into playoffs, you should probably know something: they’re actually a really good hockey team.
For starters, names like Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Ryan Clowe, and Logan Couture helped the Sharks have the second best powerplay in the NHL (21.1%). They don’t find themselves too far down on any list, really. They were 13th in goals-per-game (Blues 21st), 8th in goals-allowed-per-game (2.50), and 2nd in shots-per-game (33.8). They also kicked tail at home, going 26-12-3 in the Shark tank.
One glaring weakness in San Jose is their penalty kill – 29th in the NHL with a 76.9% success rate – but that’s minimized as a factor since they’re in the bottom third of the League in penalty mins-per-game (the Blues are the opposite – 4th most PIMS in the league, 7th best PK).
Ken Hitchock explained their success against the Sharks this season (4-0, by a total score of 11-3) by saying that it stems from a respect for the Sharks. They knew they’d be in for a battle every time they played. Well, that can be tough to gear up for night after night in a long, tough series. They’re likely to need the full 60 minutes to settle every game.
In the end, I think the Blues have shown that their depth, team defense and willingness to buy in has made them a formidable squad, and it should be enough to help them squeak by. Butttt, I do expect to see a lot of overtime.
What I’m excited to find out:
Where are the goals going to come from in St. Louis?
TJ Oshie and David Backes tied to lead the Blues in points…with 54 each. Everybody plays tighter defense in the playoffs, so if they’re going to win, they’re going to have to score some ugly ones.
The Blues have a pretty clear edge in net in this series, so there’s a lot of pressure on Antti Niemi to hold up his side of the bargain. If he’s not up to task, that could be the difference in the series.