NHL Playoffs: High-Flying Blues Meet Slumping Sharks

Joe LaTengo | Updated Apr 12, 2012

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Unlike other seasons, the San Jose Sharks had to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs this time. Previously, they were far more used to winning the Pacific Division and grabbing a top seed (usually third) and getting home-ice advantage on their various opponents. Even with those benefits, the Sharks have never won even a conference chanpionship, and now they have a big mountain to climb by facing one of the hottest teams in the league.

The Sharks lost all four games to the St. Louis Blues in the regular season, and it’s going to take some doing to get past them in the post-season. The Blues have it all going on. They have depth in goal with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, one of the top tandems in the league this season. Two years ago, Halak led the Montreal Canadiens to the Eastern Conference final. He and Elliott are the only goaltending duo in NHL history to have at least six shutouts each in the same season. The club also set a league record for fewest goals allowed with 155.

They have a solid, if young, defense led by Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Barret Jackman and Roman Polak. Their scoring is distributed throughout their forward lines, and they produced a solid, if unspectacular, 210 goals. Still, coupled with their incredible netminding, they won the Central Division comfortably. Leading them in all this is head coach Ken Hitchcock, who has turned the club into gold since general manager Doug Armstrong hired him last November to replace Davis Payne. About the only area pof concern for this Blues team is their lack of playoff experience.

The Sharks, meanwhile, are feeling the heat. If they get knocked out in the first round, it could mean the end for head coach Todd McLellan. At least they have Martin Havlat in the lineup: they perform better when the gifted but fragile winger is playing. When paired with center Joe Thornton and winger Patrick Marleau, they form a deadly combination on offense and are the biggest pieces in the team’s playoff puzzle. Brent Burns and Dan Boyle lead the offensively-minded defense.

There are issues in goal, however. Antti Niemi compiled a middle-of-the-road 34 wins and a 2.42 goals-against average, which ranked 17th in the NHL; his save percentage was even worse, at 9.15 and good for only 23rd. His play has been uneven, and Thomas Greiss isn’t a stellar backup either.

Still, many of the Sharks have been to the post-season dance before. San Jose’s players have played in more than 1,000 post-season games combined, and that should help them if they need to overcome any deficit they might face. As previously mentioned, though, all of that playoff exposure hasn’t meant much in terms of titles and trophies.

The NHL betting line has favored the Blues in this series; it would take a total team effort from San Jose, despite their previous playoff experience, to take this past six games.

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