NHL Western Conference Finals Pick: St. Louis Blues vs San Jose Sharks
Both Western Conference Semifinal series required the full seven games, as the St. Louis Blues defeated the Dallas Stars and the San Jose Sharks eliminated the Colorado Avalanche. Now, the Blues and the Sharks are ready to meet in the Western Conference Finals for the second time in four seasons.
The Blues and Sharks each needed seven games to advance past Round 2, so neither team has any real rest advantage or disadvantage. The Blues had to come from behind in their series with the Stars, picking up a Game 6 win in Dallas before winning Game 7 on home ice on Tuesday. St. Louis has been completing comebacks all season long, starting with their coaching change late last year.
In November of 2018, the Blues fired head coach Mike Yeo, replacing him with Craig Berube. The team was (7-9-3) at the time of the change and was the worst team in the NHL on January 3, 2019. Since then, St. Louis overcame an 11-point deficit to move into a Wild Card spot, then continued to rise in the standings to finish the year third in the Central Division.
Jordan Binnington has been a revelation for the Blues, backstopping St. Louis throughout their run. In front of him, the Blues’ grinding style has allowed them to find success, even when their leading scorers haven’t all found the net. While Alex Pietrangelo and Jaden Schwartz have each contributed a team-high 11 points in the playoffs (including eight goals from Schwartz), Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn have struggled in that department this postseason. After combining for 122 points during the regular season, Schenn and Tarasenko have totaled just nine points through the first 13 games of the playoffs.
For the Sharks, their captain Joe Pavelski managed to return to the lineup for Game 7 of their series with Colorado. Pavelski had been injured during Game 7 of San Jose’s Round 1 series against Vegas, missing the first six games of Round 2. The Sharks grabbed a one-goal win over the Avalanche in Wednesday’s Game 7, a win that included getting a goal from Pavelski himself.
Offensively, San Jose is led by a three-headed monster of Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture. All three managed 14 points in 14 games over the first two rounds, after ranking first, second, and third in points for the Sharks during the regular season. San Jose’s best defensemen, Burns and Erik Karlsson, are each gifted offensive contributors (Karlsson had 12 points, all assists, across the first two rounds of play).
In net, Martin Jones found his groove in the middle of the Round 1 series against the Golden Knights. After giving up 13 goals in the first four games of that series and being pulled twice (a Goals Against Average of 5.33 goals per 60 minutes played), he’s allowed 23 goals in the 10 games since (a GAA of 2.13) and has not been pulled other than for an extra attacker. Having THAT Martin Jones show up for this series with St. Louis could very well be a major part of San Jose’s chances.
The last postseason meeting between the Blues and Sharks came in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, a series San Jose won in six games. That year marked the first and only Stanley Cup Final appearance for the Sharks to-date, and they’d lose that year to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blues have never won more than two series in a single postseason, though they have played in the Stanley Cup Final three times in franchise history: each year from 1968 through 1970. The Blues were swept in all three cases, twice by Montreal, and once by Boston on the iconic overtime goal by Bobby Orr.
For this year’s Western Conference Finals, what intrigues me most is St. Louis’ top players. Martin Jones and Jordan Binnington may cancel each other out, as both are currently performing incredibly well, but Jones with a history of inconsistency and Binnington has little track record at the NHL level. Meanwhile, neither team has run away from any of the teams they’ve played: St. Louis is (8-5) this postseason while San Jose is (8-6).
So, I’m looking at the potential to be better than they’ve been to this point. Yes, the Sharks were without Joe Pavelski throughout the second round, but they had him throughout the entire first round and were losing by three goals in Game 7 at the time of his injury. The Sharks have won two playoff series already, despite not getting the expected offensive outputs from Tarasenko and Schenn. If those two (or even just one of them) can turn it back up for Round 3, then that would put St. Louis over the top in my eyes. I’m taking the Blues to win the series and enjoy getting them at better than even money on top of that.
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