Blues look to continue mastery of Sharks in opener
SHARKS (43-29-10) at BLUES (49-22-11)
TV: CNBC, TSN, RDSI, CSN-CA (HD), FS-MW (HD)
San Jose 7-3-0; St. Louis 4-3-3
St. Louis dominated, winning all four regular-season matchups and outscoring San Jose 11-3 in the process. The Blues didn't allow a goal in either game at Scottrade Center, with Brian Elliott
and Jaroslav Halak
each recording a shutout. Alex Pietrangelo
led all scorers with 2 goals and 5 points.
While the Blues' postseason berth was never really in doubt the second half of the season, the Sharks had to scratch and claw over the final weeks just to get in for an eight straight year. The respective senses of urgency seemed to be evident in their respective play, as San Jose won its final four regular-season games, including a home-and-home sweep of Pacific Division rival Los Angeles, while St. Louis dropped four in a row before winning its finale against Dallas.
Now everything resets, though, and the Sharks must figure out how they're going to win one game -- much less four -- against a club that led the NHL in goals-against average (1.89) and allowed 14 fewer goals the next-best team during the regular season.
If there's one thing that could give San Jose a distinct advantage in this series, it's the experience of the returning nucleus that led the Sharks to back-to-back appearances in the Western Conference Finals the past two years -- players like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle. Goalie Antti Niemi was part of last year's squad that lost to Vancouver, and the year prior to that he led Chicago to a Stanley Cup title as a rookie. There's also the fact the Sharks have been in playoff mode for weeks now, and come off consecutive extra-time wins against a fierce rival that was also battling for positioning.
"The expectations for us are still there," Boyle told the San Jose Mercury News. "People are probably a little more unsure of us than they've ever been. But that doesn't really matter as far as this locker room goes. The expectations are still the same, whether we finished eighth, seventh or first."
The biggest storyline to come out of St. Louis in the days leading up to Game 1 seemed to be which dynamite goalie coach Ken Hitchcock would choose to start the opener. On Monday, Hitchcock said he wouldn't make that decision until the morning of game day. The following day it came out Elliott was nursing an upper-body injury, and the club recalled Jake Allen
from the AHL on an emergency basis, but Hitchcock said it was just so Allen could give Elliott a rest in practice and that the League leader in GAA (1.56) and save percentage (.940) would be ready to start Thursday if called upon. It's an interesting call, considering Halak did start more games this season and has made 21 career postseason appearances (18 during Montreal's run to the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals) to just four for Elliott.
"To me, [the goalies] have been the story of our hockey club," Hitchcock said. "When your leading scorer hasn't gotten to 60 points yet and you're in first in the division, that's quite an accomplishment. We've done it with checking, we've done it with defense and more importantly, we've done it with goaltending."
Boyle scored twice in the Sharks' season finale, including the overtime winner, and has a three-game points streak (2-2-4). Marleau is on a four-game run (2-3-5), including goals in each of the last two games to reach 30 for the sixth time in seven seasons. Pavelski (2-3-5) and Martin Havlat (1-4-5) also have four-game streaks going. … David Perron
has a goal in five of his last six games for the Blues. He's scored 9 goals in the last 15 games.
San Jose forward Torrey Mitchell (upper body) is considered likely to play in the series opener, while Elliott is expected to at least dress for St. Louis even if he doesn't get the start.
The Sharks had three 30-goal scorers for the first time in their history this season, as Pavelski, Marleau and Logan Couture all reached the mark. … David Backes
and T.J. Oshie
led the Blues with 54 points this season. Backes had a team-leading 24 goals.
Although this is only the second postseason appearance by St. Louis since the work stoppage, the team does have veterans like Jamie Langenbrunner
and Jason Arnott
who have lifted the Stanley Cup before -- and it's something San Jose is well aware of.
"They've got some guys over there who have played over 100 playoff games, too," Couture said. "Those guys have got some experience, and I'm sure they're helping their young guys along."