The Western Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs will feature two squads that know a thing or two about demons in the closet. My series breakdown and NHL pick here.
St. Louis finally got by Chicago and is in the West Finals for the first time in 15 years, with a chance to return to Cup Finals for the initial time in 46 years. This is actually San Jose's fourth venture to this stage in the last dozen years and they got redemption on Los Angeles and are focused on taking the next step.
Why San Jose Wins
The Sharks are led by veteran stars Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Logan Couture, who have been the cornerstones of the franchise for some time. Each has enjoyed a great deal of individual success as players, but now more than ever want to take the next step and again overcome past failures. San Jose has the speed to give St. Louis fits and they tallied nine goals in road wins in Missouri in February. With the Blues physical style, San Jose will try and create power plays and they are at sensational 31 percent (13 for 42) in the playoffs.
Why St. Louis Wins
Both Chicago and Dallas had faster skaters across the board than the Blues and both are now making summer plans instead of playing hockey. Coach Ken Hitchcock's meticulous detail when it comes to planning allowed his players to be in position to deliver blows and if you watched Game 7 of the series with the Stars at home, their bodies were battered and had no speed left, making St. Louis looking and playing like the fresher squad. The strength of the Blues is reliance on defense and now that they understand they belong on this stage, it is quite evident how their confidence has grown.
Why San Jose Loses
As good as the Sharks have played, they are only halfway home to the dream. Goalie Martin Jones has been regarded as the weak link, yet has stood up to each challenge. The Sharks were the best road team in the NHL this year and won all three at Los Angeles, but it has to be a little disconcerting knowing they dropped at three at Nashville, granted, two were in OT. If St. Louis can suppress San Jose's power play, that means more 5-on-5 play and getting tagged by Blues players which could were them down.
Why St. Louis Loses
Speaking of wearing down, the Blues have completed two emotional playoff series that went the max against division foes. Now stepping out to face a different team all together, will the juices be flowing from the opener and given how San Jose has played in the Blues building this year and most places all season, if St. Louis is not emotionally ready they could be down 0-2 in a hurry and face Sharks club that is back at home with five consecutive victories.
The Bottom Line
This is a superb matchup of contrast of styles, the speed and up-and-down pace of San Jose against the defense and physical Blues. The best bet in this series could well be betting the visitor for NHL picks, with the Sharks 31-17 SU this season, St. Louis 5-2 in the playoffs and the away club 8-4 SU since 2013.
On my personal betting, I am 6-2 in playoffs and half my wins have come from playing these two teams. (Sharks twice) I made a note that after St. Louis got by Chicago, I felt they had gained the confidence to reach The Finals and will predict they sink St. Jose in seven grueling games.
Series Pick - St. Louis;