Western Conference Final Preview and Readers Poll: Pacific #2 Sharks vs. Central #3 Blues

Brandon Magnus:Getty ImagesPhoto: Brandon Magnus/Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks, who finished the regular season with the second-most points in the Pacific Division and Western Conference (101), and the St. Louis Blues, who tied the Winnipeg Jets for the second-most points in the Central Division and fifth-most in the Western Conference, will face off in the 2019 Western Conference Final. The Sharks have won three of the five postseason meetings with the Blues, including a six-game victory in the 2016 Western Conference Final. The series will get underway on Saturday night from SAP Center in San Jose at 8 PM ET on NBC. For the full series schedule, click here.

The Sharks overcame a 3-1 series deficit in Round 1 to beat the reigning Western Conference Champion Vegas Golden Knights in seven games before they ousted the Colorado Avalanche in seven games in Round 2.

The Blues beat the Winnipeg Jets in six games in the First Round before they eliminated the Dallas Stars in seven games in the second.

Regular Season Recap

The Sharks went 2-1-0 against the Blues during the regular season, including 4-0 and 3-2 wins on home-ice on November 17 and March 9, respectively. The Blues shut out the Sharks by a score of 4-0 on November 9 at Enterprise Center.

Team Leaders

Sharks

Regular Season
Goals: Joe Pavelski (38)
Assists: Brent Burns (67)
Points: Burns (83)
Plus-Minus: Brendan Dillon (+19)

Stanley Cup Playoffs
Goals: Logan Couture/Tomas Hertl (9)
Assists: Erik Karlsson (12)
Points: Couture, Hertl, Burns (14)
Plus-Minus: Timo Meier, Gustav Nyquist, Marc-Edouard Vlasic (+5)

Blues

Regular Season
Goals: Vladimir Tarasenko (33)
Assists: Ryan O’Reilly (49)
Points: O’Reilly (77)
Plus-Minus: O’Reilly (+22)

Stanley Cup Playoffs
Goals: Jaden Schwartz (8)
Assists: Alex Pietrangelo (9)
Points: Schwartz/Pietrangelo (11)
Plus-Minus: Schwartz (+9)

Team Stats
Regular Season
Goals-Per-Game:                    Sharks – 3.52 (T-2nd)              Blues – 2.98 (15th)
Goals-Against Per Game:      Sharks – 3.15 (21st)                 Blues – 2.68 (T-5th)
Power Play:                             Sharks – 23.6% (6th)               Blues – 21.1% (10th)
Penalty Kill:                            Sharks – 80.8% (15th)             Blues – 81.5% (9th)
Home Record:                        Sharks – 25-11-5                       Blues – 24-15-2
Away Record:                         Sharks – 21-16-4                       Blues – 21-13-7
Stanley Cup Playoffs
Goals-Per-Game:                   Sharks – 3.07 (4th)                  Blues – 2.62 (10th)
Goals-Against Per Game:     Sharks – 3.07 (11th)                Blues – 2.54 (6th)
Power Play:                            Sharks – 18.5% (10th)             Blues – 17.1% (11th)
Penalty Kill:                           Sharks – 80.8% (9th)               Blues – 75% (T-12th)
Home Record:                       Sharks – 6-2                              Blues – 3-4
Away Record:                        Sharks – 2-4                              Blues – 5-1

X-Factors

Meier: After recording 30 goals and 66 points in 78 games during the regular season, the 22-year old has posted three goals and seven points in 14 postseason games. The Sharks are going to need some depth scoring to beat a deep St. Louis blueline that has allowed an average of 2.54 goals-per-game during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, meaning that Meier will have to get back to the level of production that he had during the regular season. If the Sharks get depth scoring in this series, the Blues are going to have a really hard time matching the top-six forward group that San Jose possesses. That all starts with Meier to step up his offensive numbers.

Pietrangelo: The 29-year old defenseman has been a key contributor for the Blues during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, leading the team in assists and tying the team lead in points. He also leads the Blues in ice-time, playing an average of 25:43 per night. Pietrangelo will see a lot of time against Karlsson and the Sharks’ top forwards. His 55 takeaways in the regular season led all Blues defensemen and were second on the team behind O’Reilly’s 94 and his 139 blocked shots were second behind defenseman Colton Parayko. His 24 blocked shots in the postseason are the most on St. Louis. For the Blues to punch their ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, they will need Pietrangelo to continue his strong defense against a strong San Jose offense.

Keys To The Series

Sharks

  • Pressure Binnington: While the rookie was impressive in the regular season, he has dipped considerably in the postseason with a save percentage of .915. Though the Stars and Jets had some good offensive firepower, the Sharks are arguably deeper than both of those teams. St. Louis allows an average of 29.2 shots-per-game, the second-fewest among remaining teams (Carolina Hurricanes: 27.8). If they give Binnington a harder time than Winnipeg and Dallas did in the first two rounds, handling the Sharks’ potent offense will be a struggle.
  • Continue To Block Shots: The Sharks’ 249 blocked shots in the postseason are tied with the Stars for the most. San Jose boasts three defensemen who each have at least 100 blocked shots in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Braun: 120, Vlasic: 114, and Burns: 105). However, there is a considerable drop off after that as Dillon ranks fourth with 79. The Sharks will need more sacrifice of the body from more players, especially their forward group if they hope to win.
  • Weather The Third-Period: Especially against the Jets, the Blues have dominated the third period this postseason and they have pulled off incredible comebacks in the final frame throughout the playoffs. Their 18 goals in the third period are second in the NHL to the Bruins’ 20. The Sharks must shut down the Blues and stop any momentum that they have, especially the third. If they can close the door, they should be in good shape as the Sharks are 5-0 when leading after 40.

Blues

  • Special Teams: The Blues’ 17.1% efficiency on the power-play and 75% efficiency on the penalty kill are each the second-worst in those respective categories among remaining teams. Against a blueline that has Karlsson, Burns, and Vlasic on each unit, the Blues’ special teams could be a difference-maker in this series and make-or-break their season. If they move the puck well and make smart decisions on their special teams, the Blues will find success against a deep San Jose group that could be dangerous on both the man advantage and the penalty kill.
  • More Offense: The Blues’ average of 2.62 goals-per-game is the worst among remaining teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and they’re facing arguably the deepest defense that they have or will face in their road to the Stanley Cup. It is going to be an awfully difficult task to take down a Sharks team that not only has a deep blueline but also averages the third-most goals-per-game in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blues do not have anyone who averages a point-per-game in the playoffs.
  • Puck Management: The Sharks’ 152 takeaways during the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the most in the NHL while their 110 giveaways are the fewest among remaining teams. With the weapons that the Sharks have on the backend, St. Louis must be careful and have good puck management when they have the puck. While the Blues’ 113 takeaways are the third-most in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, their 123 giveaways are also the third-most. St. Louis will have a really tough time winning the series if they don’t have good puck management.

Goaltender Matchup

Martin Jones, who went 36-19-5 with an .893 save percentage, a 2.94 goals-against average, and three shutouts during the regular season, will start the series for San Jose. In nine regular-season games against the Blues, the 29-year old has gone 5-4-0 with a .919 save percentage, a 2.00 goals-against average, and one shutout. Jones posted a .920 save percentage, a 2.02 goals-against average, and two shutouts in the 2016 Western Conference Final. He is 30-23 with a .922 save percentage, a 2.23 goals-against average, and six shutouts in 56 career appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Rookie Jordan Binnington, who went 24-5-1 with a .927 save percentage, a 1.89 goals-against average, and five shutouts during the regular season, will man the nets for the Blues in the Western Conference Final. The 25-year old netminder has never started against San Jose in his career. He is 8-5-0 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.39 goals-against average while playing all of the Blues’ Stanley Cup Playoff games this Spring.

Projected Game 1 Lineups

Sharks

Timo Meier — Logan Couture – Gustav Nyquist
Evander Kane — Tomas Hertl — Joe Pavelski
Marcus Sorensen — Joe Thornton — Kevin Labanc
Joonas Donskoi — Barclay Goodrow — Melker Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic — Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon — Erik Karlsson
Joakim Ryan — Justin Braun

Martin Jones
Aaron Dell

Blues

Jaden Schwartz – Brayden Schenn – Vladimir Tarasenko
Sammy Blais – Ryan O’Reilly – David Perron
Patrick Maroon – Tyler Bozak – Robert Thomas
Ivan Barbashev – Oskar Sundqvist – Alexander Steen

Joel Edmundson – Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester – Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn – Carl Gunnarsson

Jordan Binnington
Jake Allen

Playoff Experience

Meier, Labanc, and Kane are each going through their second respective playoff run, with 24 games of experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on their resumé for the Sharks. Goodrow has 16 games of playoff experience. Rookie forward Lukas Radil has appeared in six playoff games this Spring but has been a healthy scratch for the last three. Ryan has 17 games of playoff experience, including all 14 games for the Sharks in 2019 and three last season. Everyone else on San Jose has gone through at least three go-rounds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including 12 players who played in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final against Pittsburgh.

Thomas, Dunn, Blais, and Binnington are all going through their first Stanley Cup Playoff run for the Blues. O’Reilly appeared in 13 career playoff games with Colorado in 2010 and 2014. Before the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Sundqvist appeared in two playoff games for the Pittsburgh Penguins during their run to the Stanley Cup in 2016. The rest of the Blues’ players have at least three postseasons under their belt.

How They’re Entering The Series

After a seven-game losing streak (0-6-1) and a stretch where they lost nine out of 10 (1-8-1), the Sharks won their final two games of the regular season and Game 1 of their First Round series against the Vegas Golden Knights. After the Golden Knights won the next three, the Sharks would take the final three games of the series to move on to Round 2, where they would trade wins back-and-forth with the Avalanche to get to the Western Conference Final.

After sitting in last place in the NHL with 36 points on January 3, the Blues went 29-10-5 in their final 44 games of the season to grab the third divisional spot in the Central. St. Louis went 8-1-1 in their last 10 games of the regular season before winning Games 1 and 2 on the road against the Jets in the First Round. The Jets took Games 3 and 4 in St. Louis but the Blues would win the final two games of the series to move on and face the Dallas Stars in the Second Round. Despite taking a 2-1 series lead, the Stars won the next two to take the series lead and put the Blues on the brink of elimination. The Blues would go on to win Game 6 in Dallas and advanced with a 2-1 overtime win in Game 7 at home.

Readers Poll

By Harrison

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
This entry was posted in News, NHL, Playoffs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s