(2) St. Louis Blues vs (7) San Jose Sharks
The St. Louis Blues went from a team that had a lot of interesting pieces but were unable to put them all together to an elite squad when coach Ken Hitchcock
took over. St. Louis has a 43-15-11 record with him as the head coach. The secret to the Blues’ success has been fairly obvious: superb defensive play and excellent goaltending. Brian Elliott
and Jaroslav Halak
combined over the 2011-12 campaign to claim the Jennings Trophy, which is given to the goaltender(s) of the team that finishes the season with the fewest goals allowed. Both goaltenders were so good, it’s hard to say with any certainty who will be the team’s starter in the playoffs. However, Halak might have the inside track after leading the eighth seed Montreal Canadiens all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals back in 2010.
The St. Louis Blues have crushed the San Jose Sharks in their 2011-12 meetings, but they might not have as easy a time in the playoffs. The Sharks struggled in the regular season, but they were attempting to build a team for the post-season. They went out and got a great all-around defenseman over the summer in Brent Burns
to take some pressure off Dan Boyle
. They also have a ton of scoring depth with Joe Pavelski
, Logan Couture
, and Patrick Marleau
all finishing the season with at least 30 goals. With Martin Havlat
finally healthy and Joe Thornton
posting another 70-plus point season, the Sharks have two pretty good scoring lines.
The question mark for San Jose is Antti Niemi
. Niemi has already won the Stanley Cup with Chicago, but he wasn’t nearly as good in the Sharks’ 2011 playoff campaign. He had a 3.22 GAA and .896 save percentage in 18 postseason starts.
This series will be a big test for St. Louis as they attempt to prove they’re just as good as their regular season record suggests. The Sharks should give them plenty of trouble, but in the end, I think St. Louis will win in six games. St. Louis David Perron
Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund
-Andy McDonald Jamie Langenbrunner
-Chris Stewart Vladimir Sobotka
-Matt D'Agostini Kent Huskins
-Alex Pietrangelo Barret Jackman
-Kevin Shattenkirk Kris Russell
-Roman Polak Jaroslav Halak Brian Elliott WHO'S HOT
is one of the hottest blueliners in the NHL going into the playoffs with two goals and 15 points in his last 17 games. Andy McDonald
has a goal and three points in four contests since returning from a shoulder injury. WHO’S NOT
has only four points in his last 15 games. David Backes
is on a mild cold streak with just one goal and no assists in his last five contests. NOTES
This is just St. Louis' second playoff appearance since the lockout. Before the lockout, the Blues made the playoffs for 25 consecutive campaigns.
The Blues have battled through a significant number of injuries this season, but they're relatively healthy going into the first round.
The Blues swept their four-game season series against the San Jose Sharks. They limited the Sharks to just three goals during the regular season. San Jose
-Joe Pavelski Ryane Clowe
-Martin Havlat Daniel Winnik
TJ Galiardi-Andrew Desjardins
-Tommy Wingels Dan Boyle
-Marc-Edouard Vlasic Brent Burns
-Douglas Murray Justin Braun
-Colin White Antti Niemi Thomas Greiss WHO’S HOT
is riding a four-game point streak going into the first round. He has two goals and five points in that span. Logan Couture
has a goal and five points in a three-game point streak. WHO’S NOT
The Sharks have scored 17 goals over their last four contests, so they're very hot going into the playoffs. If there's an exception, it's blueliner Brent Burns
, who has just one point in his last seven games. NOTES
Along with the Detroit Red Wings, the Sharks are one of just two teams to advance to the playoffs in every season since the lockout. Torrey Mitchell
is questionable for game one due to an undisclosed injury. Mitchell missed the Sharks' season finale on Saturday.
The Sharks were second in the NHL with a 21.1% power-play success rate this season. They also won 53.3% of their faceoffs to finish second to just the Boston Bruins.