In the NHL Western Conference Final, the St. Louis Blues go up against the San Jose Sharks. Both teams have gone through wars in the second round as both sides played a full seven-game series. The Sharks had to get by a young and talented Colorado Avalanche team while the Blues had to go the distance with their Central Division rival the Dallas Stars. In this edition of Stanley Cup Playoffs Notebook, let’s take a look at how the West will be won.
Keys to the Western Conference Final:
- Goaltending – Martin Jones has come a long way from the regular season. Thanks in part to Evgeni Nabakov and Johan Hedberg, Jones turned his game around after Game 4 in the first round against Vegas. Since then, Jones has been lights out for the Sharks. This will be a tough test for Jones, who faces a Blues team that likes to cause chaos in front of the net. On the other hand, Jordan Binnington has played more like a veteran than a rookie and Binnington has calmed the ship for the Blues. Goaltending is no longer a question for the Blues. For Binnington, the Sharks offense brings a new dynamic as they always drive the net hard.
- Special Teams – Just like in the Eastern Conference Final, special teams will be huge for both teams. The Sharks power play has picked up steam as of late. The main reason the Sharks have gotten this far is the power play. If it was not for the four power-play goals against Vegas in the first round, the Sharks might not even be in this position. Blues will need to avoid the penalty box. The Blues power play is not as electric, but they have the weapons to make life miserable for the Sharks.
- Physical Play – Both the Sharks and Blues like to play physical. The Sharks thrive on the physical play, but can open it up with their speed. It might be wise for the Sharks to play more of a speed game since San Jose enters the series a little banged up. The Blues are healthier and love to wear teams down. That is what made them so good in the first two rounds. The Jets and Stars could not answer the bell as the Blues just kept hitting and would not get tired. Something will have to give.
- Home Ice Advantage – The Sharks have a playoff-best 6-2 record on home ice. While the Blues have the best road record in the playoffs at 5-1. The Shark Tank is an advantage for the Sharks. However, the Blues never say die attitude helps them well on the road. Which team will blink first?
- Team Depth – Both teams have great depth on offense and defense. Each team acquired payoffs at the trade deadline to be in this position. Through the first two rounds, the depth players have gotten it done for both sides. The Sharks depth has an edge with more skill and speed. The Blues will need more depth scoring if they want to win this series and advance.
The Sharks and Blues will look to capture the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. The Sharks were last in the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. St. Louis has not been to a Stanley Cup Final since 1970, where Bobby Orr had his famous moment as the Bruins beat the Blues. 1970 marked the third straight year the Blues went to the Stanley Cup Final.