The (#7) San Jose Sharks face the (#2) St. Louis Blues in Game 1 in the best-of-seven Western Conference Quarterfinal series in St. Louis on Thursday at 4:30 PM (Pacific). This will be the 28th playoff series in Sharks franchise history (13-14) an d the 4th playoff series against the Blues.
Previous Playoff Series vs. St. Louis (all Western Conference Quarterfinals)
2003-04: (#2) San Jose Sharks defeat (#7) St. Louis Blues, 4-1
2000-01: (#4) St. Louis Blues defeat (#5) San Jose Sharks, 4-3
1999-00: (#8) San Jose Sharks defeat (#1) St. Louis Blues, 4-3
San Jose enters the playoffs on a high note, having won their last four games to claim the 7th spot in a highly-contested Western Conference while the Blues went just 1-2-2 in their final five games of the regular season.
The Sharks had a tough go in the four-game regular season series vs. the Blues with St. Louis winning all four games while outscoring the Sharks, 11-3. Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo led St. Louis with five points (2-3-5), followed by fellow blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk with four points (2-2-4).
Both goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot posted shutouts against the Sharks in the regular season, both in St. Louis, as San Jose failed to score a single goal at the Scottrade Center on 49 combined shots in the two games. Sharks forwards Torrey Mitchell
and Michal Handzus
and defenseman Brent Burns
scored the only goals for the Sharks in the regular season series.
MATCH-UPS TO WATCH
Offense vs. Defense
The St. Louis Blues defense gave up the fewest goals in the NHL allowing just 1.89 goals against per game and caused fits against the Sharks 11th ranked offense (2.67 goals for per game) in the four-game season series.
San Jose and their No. 2 power play (21.1%) will need to get things rolling offensively, but must do so against St. Louis’ seventh-best penalty kill League-wide (85.8%). The Sharks went just 1-for-15 (6.7%) vs. the Blues on the man advantage during the regular season while St. Louis converted 5-for-19 (26.3%) on their opportunities against the San Jose penalty kill.
The Sharks had four players hit the 60-point mark this season: Joe Thornton
(77), Logan Couture
(65), Patrick Marleau
(64), and Joe Pavelski
(61). St. Louis did not have any players reach the 60-point plateau. For the first time in team history, San Jose had three 30+ goal scorers: Couture, Pavelski (31), and Marleau (30). St. Louis had just two players score over 20 goals this season: David Backes (24) and David Perron (21). However, St. Louis did have nine players score at least 10 goals this season while San Jose had just six.
Remember me?... Patrick Marleau
is the only current member of the San Jose Sharks that was in the Sharks lineup for the last playoff series vs. the Blues in 2004. Marleau led all Sharks players with four points (3-1-4) including series-clinching goal in the five-game series victory over the Blues. Current San Jose Sharks development coach Mike Ricci had a goal and an assist in the series for San Jose.
Game 1… The Sharks have a 13-14 record all time in Game 1’s of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 7-7 record on the road during Game 1.
Can’t wait… Rookie Tommy Wingels
is looking to dress in his first Stanley Cup playoffs game.
125 and counting… Patrick Marleau
is set to dress in his franchise-leading 125th playoff game for the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 vs. St. Louis.
Joe loves the Spring… Joe Pavelski
has 38 points (20-18-38) and seven game-winning goals in 58 career playoff games.
Not singing the Blues… Joe Thornton
has 37 points (8-29-37) in 37 career games against St. Louis.
Niemi vs. STL… Antii Niemi is 4-5-0 with a 2.59 GAA and .917 save percentage in his career against the St. Louis.
Awesome at Home… The Blues had the fewest regulation home losses (6) in the NHL during the regular season.
Familiar Faces… Scott Nichol and Kent Huskins, who spent last postseason on the Sharks roster, open this postseason on the Blues roster. Nichol played 80 games for St. Louis this season, posting eight points (3-5-8), and Huskins added seven points (2-5-7) in 25 games.
Standing Tall… Blues netminder -- and likely Game 1 starter Jaroslav Halak -- has two shutouts in seven career games against San Jose.
2002… The last time the St. Louis Blues won a playoff series.
A change will do you good… The Blues went 43-15-11 to close out the season after head coach Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench on November 6, 2011. Hitchcock led the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999.
Just grabbed 20… David Perron had a goal in five of his last six games for the Blues and scored nine times in the last 15 games to reach 21 goals this season.
Welcome to the playoffs… The Blues have seven potential players set to make their Stanley Cup Playoff debuts this spring. Ian Cole, Evgeny Grachev, Alex Pietrangelo, Chris Porter, Ryan Reaves, Jaden Schwartz, and Kevin Shattenkirk.
San Jose is relatively healthy headed into the postseason. Right wing Torrey Mitchell
missed the regular season finale due to injury, while defenseman Douglas Murray
returned to the lineup for Game 82 after missing four. There were some questions about alternate captain Ryane Clowe
’s health, but head coach Todd McLellan quickly quieted those questions stating that he expected Clowe to be ready for Game 1.
St. Louis goaltender Brian Elliott (undisclosed, day-to-day) is questionable after reportedly sustaining an injury in practice. Accordingly, the Blues have recalled Jake Allen from Peoria to serve as a potential backup to Jaroslav Halak, the probable Game 1 starting goaltender.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
"They (St. Louis) play a hard game. Up and down the ice, physical, pucks to the net. We've got to match that. If they're going to do it to us, we've got to do it to them." – Marc-Edouard Vlasic
, Sharks defenseman
The Sharks would love to score an early goal, grab momentum and break the 0-for-49 shooting percentage in St. Louis this season. A few goals early in Game 1 for the Sharks could go a long way in this series against a very young and rather inexperienced Blues team. Although it is always a great way to start of a series with a win on the road, the Sharks just need to focus on keeping a high-tempo physical style of play and grab a split in the two games on the road before heading home to HP Pavilion at San Jose.
Let the Playoffs Begin!
by Eric Lindquist, SJSHARKS.com
SHARKS (43-29-10) at BLUES (49-22-11)
TV: CNBC, TSN, RDSI, CSN-CA (HD), FS-MW (HD)
Last 10: San Jose 7-3-0; St. Louis 4-3-3
Season Series: 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.
Big Story: 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.
Sharks: 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."
Blues: 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. The wait ended Wednesday when Hitchcock confirmed Jaroslav Halak (26-12-7, 1.97 GAA, .926 save percentage) will be in net. 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. It came out on Tuesday that 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 play Thursday if called upon.
"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."
Who's Hot: 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.
Injury Report: San Jose forward Torrey Mitchell
(upper body) is considered likely to play in the series opener, while Elliott is expected to dress for St. Louis.
Stat Pack: 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.
Puck Drop: 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."