Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
The St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks have met four times in the NHL playoffs prior to 2016, each club winning two series. In their 25-year history, the Sharks have qualified for the playoffs 18 times, an excellent success rate of 75%. (There were no playoffs when the NHL owners decided to cancel the 2004/05 season due to a labor dispute with the players.) In 49 years, the Blues have qualified 40 times, an even better success rate of 83%. Prior to the lockout season, the Blues had qualified a phenomenal 34 times in 37 seasons, including 25 consecutive years from the 1980 to 2004. Of course, despite that regular season success, St. Louis only made it to the Conference Finals twice, in 1986 (lost to Calgary) and 2001 (lost to Colorado). San Jose has made it to the Conference Finals three times, in 2004 (lost to Calgary), 2010 (lost to Chicago) and 2011 (lost to Vancouver). Obviously, one of these two teams will break the losing streak and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The first time the Blues and Sharks met in the playoffs was in 2000, the ninth year of the Sharks’ short existence. The eighth-seeded San Jose squad defeated number one St. Louis in seven games in the opening round, shocking the Presidents’ Trophy winning Blues and the entire hockey world. During the regular season, General Manager Larry Pleau’s Blues won 51 games and only lost 19, accumulating a franchise record 114 points. Goaltenders Roman Turek, acquired from Dallas for a draft choice, and Jamie McLennan, signed as a free agent, each had goals against averages of under 2.00, only allowing 162 total goals against. A strong defense featured Hart Memorial Trophy winner Chris Pronger, Al MacInnis, and veteran Marc Bergevin, currently the General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens. Pavol Demitra, Pierre Turgeon, Scott Young, Michel Handzus and Jochen Hecht spearheaded a potent offense.
The series will forever be remembered for several wacky occurrences and incidents. Craig Conroy, McLennan and Bergevin suited up for game one with bleached blonde hair, joined by Jamal Mayers, who bleached his eyebrows. Coach Joel Quenneville, who won the Jack Adams Award that season, was not amused. Nevertheless, the Blues took game one by a score of 5-3 with Jammer assisting on two goals. During game two, the St. Louis penalty killers were hard at work due to MacInnis being assessed a double minor penalty. When Bergevin was hit in the midsection by a Gary Suter shot from the boards, the Blues’ defenseman clutched the puck in his glove before it could hit the ice and then somehow inadvertently threw it right into his own net. The Sharks easily went on to a 4-2 victory over the discombobulated Blues. San Jose won the next two games as well, taking a commanding three to one lead in the series. The Blues battled back, winning the next two, thanks to a Young hat trick in game six, evening the series at three games apiece. As 20,418 frenzied fans looked on at the Kiel Center for game seven, they were horrified and then dismayed when the Sharks’ Owen Nolan beat Turek on a long shot from center ice with ten seconds left in the first period. A distraught Turek later claimed he could not explain what happened; he saw the puck coming and simply could not stop it. The Sharks rode that goal to an improbable 3-1 victory and the series upset.
The Sharks would go on to lose to Dallas in the following round, while the Stars went on to defeat in the Stanley Cup Finals. Goaltender Martin Brodeur, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Scott Stevens and the New Jersey Devils polished them off in six games.
The following season would see the evenly matched fourth-seeded Blues and fifth-seeded Sharks square off in the opening round, and this time the Blues prevailed in six games, led by center Pierre Turgeon and wingers Keith Tkachuk and Scott Mellanby. Rookie Brent Johnson joined Turek as a very capable back-up goaltender. After eliminating San Jose, the Blues swept Dallas in four quick games, yet then ran into the Western Conference Finals to meet and then lose to Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy and the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in five games.
The Blues and Sharks would meet again in 2004 and the second-seeded Sharks won the opening round in five games this time. The seventh-seeded Blues barely qualified for the playoffs tied with Nashville (by a mere two points ahead of Edmonton), and despite the presence of Tkachuk, Demitra, Pronger, Mellanaby and Doug Weight, St. Louis could only muster nine goals and easily fell to the powerful Sharks. Al MacInnis played his last game that year. San Jose would make it to the Conference Finals for the very first time that year by eliminating Colorado, yet ended up losing to Jerome Iginla and the Calgary Flames in six games. The Sharks would return to the Conference Finals in 2010 after knocking out the Kings and Red Wings, however they ran into eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Black Hawks and were swept in four games. The Sharks would also do well in 2011, winning two rounds against the Kings (in six games) and Red Wings (in seven). However, then San Jose ran into the red-hot Sedin twins and Vancouver Canucks and lost in five games in the Conference Finals.
The Blues and Sharks would not meet again in the playoffs until 2012. This time the second-seeded Central Division champion Blues won the opening round in five games, mostly due to the superior play of Jennings Trophy winners Jaro Halak, acquired from the Canadiens in exchange for Lars Eller, and Brian Elliott, signed as a free agent during the summer of 2011 for only $600,000. Congratulations, Doug Armstrong! The Sharks won the first game in double overtime on Martin Havlat’s second goal of the game. Patrik Berglund also scored two goals in that game. The Blues roared back, winning the next four, outscoring San Jose 14 to 8. St. Louis was subsequently swept by Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings in the next round, outscored 15 to 6. The Kings eventually defeated the New Jersey Devils in the Finals in six games and won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
That would make a total of 12 playoff victories for the Blues and 11 for the Sharks in head-to-head meetings prior to this current series. The Blues win Sunday extends their lead in games, 13 to 11. Of course, as we all know, past performance is not indicative of future actions, including the Sharks winning two of three against the Blues during the regular season. San Jose won both games in St. Louis in February, out scoring the Blues nine to four. Joe Thornton had three goals and two assists in those two games. The Blues won in California in March on a shutout by Elliott and a goal by Robby Fabbri.
So, once again, the two Western Conference juggernauts meet in game two tonight, this time in the Conference Finals, not in the opening round. Now they are battling for the Western Conference championship and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.