San Jose Sharks (+115) at St Louis Blues (-135)
The NHL’s Western Conference was completely turned on its head this postseason, as perennial Cup favorites were knocked off early and often. Now, amidst all the ruin, it’s fitting that the San Jose Sharks (8-4, 3-3 road) and St Louis Blues (8-6, 3-4 home) are the only teams left standing.
Two franchises synonymous with playoff failure will engage in an epic battle for the right to finally break through to the Cup finals. It all begins tomorrow night at the Scottrade Center (8:00 PM Eastern).
The San Jose Sharks have never made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in their 25-year history, but they’ve gotten to the doorstep three times before, losing the Western Conference finals in 2004, 2010, and 2011. The Blues made three-straight Cup Finals from 1968 to 1970, but were unceremoniously swept each time. This is St Louis’ first West finals since 2001.
Both teams were pushed to the brink last round, as each series went the distance. But when it was win-or-go-home time, there was no doubt who the best team on the ice was. St Louis destroyed the Stars in Dallas, 6-1; a night later, the Sharks chased Nashville out of San Jose, 5-0.
Now hockey fans can sit back and enjoy what should be another tight series: not only are these teams equal in their lack of success in the postseason, but they match-up very well on paper.
In the regular season, the Sharks had the league’s fourth-best offense, averaging 2.9 goals a game. The Blues were the league’s fourth-stingiest defense, allowing just 2.4 per game. The scoring for both these teams has gone up in the playoffs – partly because of a smaller sample size – but mostly because they have the two best powerplays. San Jose is connecting at 31-percent clip; the Blues are at 27.5-percent.
St Louis has been employing the same game plan night after night in the playoffs: jump out to an early lead, then check their way to victory. The Blues lead the postseason with 17 first-period goals.
The Sharks have been more of a comeback team, with 17 goals in the third. However, they’re 0-3 in games that go to overtime.
The teams have met four previous times in the playoffs, splitting those series right down the middle. So like I’ve been saying: it should be tight.
As for tonight’s affair, it’s tough to gauge what Sharks team we’ll be getting. They were the best road team in the NHL in the regular season, but lost all three trips to Nashville last round. Still, this team has won an impressive seven out of their last nine Game 1s. Take them to get out in front of a St Louis squad that has been lackluster at home.
Pick: Sharks (+115).
(Photo credit: Jennifer Griggs (Originally uploaded to Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/])