Western Conference Final preview: San Jose Sharks - St. Louis Blues

Western Conference Final preview: San Jose Sharks - St. Louis Blues

The battle of the playoff underachievers is here. They both disposed of their playoff demons in the two rounds. Who will move on to the Stanley Cup Finals?

mac-bass
Mac Bass

It’s the series of the two teams in the league that has been labeled as chokers. Either the San Jose Sharks or the St. Louis Blues will represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. Both teams have never won a Stanley Cup, and although the Blues have made the Cup Final before, in their early years, both teams have never won a Cup Final game. The Sharks will be looking to make their first trip to the Cup Final since their inaugural season in 1991. There are many debates about which the best teams in the West were this year, but the two best and deepest teams are the two remaining.

Forwards

These are some deep forward groups. On both sides, there are interchangeable top lines and virtually neither team has a true fourth line. Their fourth lines are more like third lines. The Russian star, Vladimir Tarasenko, leads the Blues forward group. He’s one of the best goal scorers in the league and can skate through a whole team to put the puck in the back of the net. Blues’ Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has been going with an evenly spread forward lineup so far in the playoffs. It’s spread out so much that he has Alex Steen, captain David Backes, and Patrik Berglund on the third line. Any time a coach can have that type of third-line, you know you have great depth.

The Sharks are no slouch when it comes to forward depth either. If Head Coach Peter DeBoer opts to go with Patrick Marleau as the third-line center again, then that makes a pretty even lineup to the Blues. Marleau has recently been playing on the second line with Logan Couture and rookie Joonas Donskoi, but for the first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings, Marleau occupied the third-line center spot. Chris Tierney has been playing the third-line center role while Marleau has been up with Couture and Donskoi. It remains to be seen what line Marleau will be on, but having him on the third-line would even the Sharks’ forwards with the Blues. Tierney can certainly win his matchup if playing against the Blues fourth-line.

Joe Pavelski #8 of the San Jose Sharks is congratulated by teammates after he scored a goal on Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators in the first period of Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 12, 2016 in San Jose, California. (May 11, 2016 - Source: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)
Joe Pavelski #8 of the San Jose Sharks is congratulated by teammates after he scored a goal on Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators in the first period of Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 12, 2016 in San Jose, California. (May 11, 2016 - Source: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)

Defense

If the forward groups were pretty even at depth, then the defense groups are almost a perfect match. The Blues are of course led by Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. These two play the toughest minutes against the oppositions’ best players, and that’s exactly what the Sharks’ Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun do. Kevin Shattenkirk and Robert Bortuzzo occupy the Blues’ second-pairing which is similar to the Sharks’ second-pairing of Brent Burns and Paul Martin. Burns and Shattenkirk are the offensive dynamos and Bortuzzo, and Martin is the safer stay-at-home players. And the third pairings for both teams are where the muscle is. Colton Parayko and Carl Gunnarson matchup with Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak. The two first pairings may be pretty even, but the edge for the bottom pairing goes to the Blues. This is something to keep an eye on for what should be a long, brutal series. Parayko is a future top defenseman and had a great season. The Sharks’ Dillon has struggled a bit recently and will need to turn his game around, or he may see Dylan Demelo take his spot.

Goalies

Again, nothing but similarities. Both teams have two capable starting goalies. It is almost certain that Martin Jones will start for the Sharks and Brian Elliott will start for the Blues. Jones has played every minute of the playoffs for the Sharks so far and doesn’t look to be getting a rest anytime soon. Elliott was recently pulled for Jake Allen in Game Six against the Dallas Stars, but he rebounded with a strong Game Seven. James Reimer is currently backing up Jones, but will probably only see action if there is an injury to Jones. Luckily for the Sharks, Reimer is more than capable of being a starter if Jones were to go down. The edge on goalies goes to the Blues though just based solely on save percentage. Through the first two rounds, Elliott has a .929 save percentage versus Jones’ .918.

Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save against the Dallas Stars in the third period in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 11, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. (May 10, 2016 - Source: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America)
Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save against the Dallas Stars in the third period in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 11, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. (May 10, 2016 - Source: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America)

Projected Lines

Blues

Jaden SchwartzJori Lehtera – Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby FabbriPaul StastnyTroy Brouwer

Patrik Berglund – Alex Steen – David Backes

Scottie UpshallKyle BrodziakDmitrij Jaskin

Jay Bouwmeester – Alex Pietrangelo

Kevin Shattenkirk – Robert Bortuzzo

Carl Gunnarsson – Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott

Jake Allen

Sharks

Joe PavelskiJoe ThorntonTomas Hertl

Joel Ward – Logan Couture – Joonas Donskoi

Tommy Wingels – Patrick Marleau – Melker Karlsson

Nick Spaling – Chris Tierney – Dainius Zubrus

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Paul Martin - Brent Burns

Roman Polak - Brenden Dillon

Martin Jones

James Reimer

 

Prediction

Sharks in seven games led by Joe Pavelski with six goals in the series.

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