News, Notes and Hockey Insights - 4/12/2012

Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 8:00 AM
By Frank Albin - Director of Broadcasting / The Daily Chomp
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The Daily Chomp
News, Notes and Hockey Insights - 4\/12\/2012

To steal a marketing idea from the San Francisco Giants, late March and early April have been 'torture' for Sharks fans. Torture in a good way. For the past four weeks every Sharks win was salvation, every loss too much to live with. Entering last Thursday there was still a chance that San Jose would not qualify for NHL post-season play. Unthinkable for the Sharks.

Catapulted by some of the best regular-season hockey in memory, it was the Sharks' sweep of division foes Dallas and LA that have bolstered Teal-tinted Cup aspirations. While tournament seedings, and regular season stats provide the basis for prognosticators world-wide, all that matters now is the team that hits the ice this Thursday in St. Louis. The Sharks won 6 or 8 down the high-stress stretch, they appear to have found their game and their confidence.

Unlike seasons in the past San Jose enters round 1 as the underdog. In round 1 it will be the St. Louis Blues who must wear the tag of favorite. St. Louis had a fantastic year. Following their stumble out of the gates, Ken Hitchcock was tapped to take over the coaching reigns of the Blues. Hitchcock's bench record speaks for itself. He's won a Cup in Dallas and has also coached some very good teams in Philadelphia. But are the Blues ready for prime-time? No question they have some of the most promising young players in the league. David Backes, TJ Oshie and David Perron are hard workers up front. The blueline is anchored by Alex Piedrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. And in goal Jaroslav Hallak and Brian Elliot have posted some gaudy stats in goal. 9 Blues players have registered 10+ goals in the regular season.

The Blues are a great example of how hard work and defense can mold a team's identity. The chink in the armor as I see it is, can the Blues get it done in high pressure situations? Despite the fact that St. Louis has vets like Jason Arnott, Andy McDonald and Jamie Langenbrunner, playoff experience could come into play in round 1. The Sharks have found their way to the Western Conference finals each of the last 2 years. Playoff experience is what the Sharks have in spades. Guys like Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau and others have been there. No, never a Stanley Cup final, but rather being on the ice for game and series changing shifts, key moments on the road, adversity.

If the Sharks are to upset the Blues in the opening round it will need to be that experience, that puts them into positions to win games at home and on the road. San Jose's 3rd and 4th lines will need to contribute each and every shift. They'll need to bring energy, and the occasional goal too. Let's not forget that Antti Niemi has won a Cup. His time in Chicago should serve him well. He's been able to survive the roller-coaster emotions in a game, a series and playoff season.

In round 1 both St. Louis and San Jose will need to be at their very best if they are to move on. For the Sharks their penalty kill will need to be a game-changer. Timely kills will need to be momentum grabbers. San Jose's face-off men have been great all year. They too will need to continue to battle hard inside the circle. Niemi must make those critical stops when called upon. He will need to deflect rebounds to safe parts of the ice. His goaltending must provide his club confidence in all three zones.

I'll take the Sharks in 6 games. The hard push to the playoffs give the Sharks something they haven't had in the recent memory, trust and a positive vibe entering the pressure-cooker called the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This Thursday the Sharks will line up against the Blues. They need to look into the young St. Louis eyes and see if they see fear. If so...they can take advantage of a thing called experience, a thing called momentum.

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STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - ANA 78 49 22 7 227 216 105
2 x - NSH 77 47 22 8 220 188 102
3 STL 76 46 23 7 229 190 99
4 CHI 76 46 24 6 217 176 98
5 MIN 76 44 25 7 219 186 95
6 VAN 76 44 27 5 219 204 93
7 CGY 77 42 28 7 229 204 91
8 WPG 76 39 25 12 215 201 90
9 LAK 76 37 25 14 201 192 88
10 DAL 77 37 30 10 239 248 84
11 SJS 76 37 30 9 212 215 83
12 COL 76 35 29 12 206 213 82
13 EDM 76 23 40 13 185 255 59
14 ARI 77 23 46 8 161 256 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 76 36 31 9 67
L. Couture 76 25 37 -4 62
J. Thornton 72 14 48 -5 62
B. Burns 76 16 40 -6 56
P. Marleau 76 17 36 -17 53
T. Wingels 69 15 20 -5 35
T. Hertl 76 12 17 -2 29
M. Nieto 66 8 16 -11 24
M. Vlasic 70 9 14 12 23
J. Braun 65 1 22 6 23
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Stalock 7 7 2 .905 2.55
A. Niemi 29 22 7 .914 2.62
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