Eight wins down, and eight to go.
The St. Louis Blues are halfway towards their first Stanley Cup trophy, but don’t tell the NHL that, because all they think is the final four teams have seven Cups between them. Narrative searching or not, the flyover state team that no one thought would be in it has a chance to advance to the Cup Finals.
The San Jose Sharks stand in the way ... again. This matchup took place three years ago, and the Blues lost in six games. In a nutshell, the Sharks can score more than the Stars, but don’t have the same level of goaltending. Their penalty kill is great and their power play is solid. It won’t be easy, but I think the Blues can win this in seven games. Let’s dig deeper.
Here’s a few things the Blues need to do in order to advance:
5) Be better on the power play
They were 1-20 in the final six games of the Dallas series, and haven’t been very effective throughout the playoffs. In order to keep up with the Sharks high flying offense, the Blues must take advantage with the extra man.
4) A big series from Vladimir Tarasenko
While he showed up in spurts during the first two series, Tarasenko can’t hide in this one. The Blues need him to be unreal and take over a few games. Joe Pavelski is back in the San Jose lineup, so Tarasenko can’t be a nonfactor during 5 on 5 play.
3) Don’t break down on defense so often
Remember those times during the Dallas series when the Stars would just pin the Blues in their zone, wearing down the defense and pummeling Jordan Binnington with shots? Yeah, that can’t happen this time. The Sharks will destroy the Blues in five games if the Blues overall defense, and penalty kill, doesn’t rise to the occasion. If Old Man Bouwmeester skates in and the malfunctioning duo of Edmundson and Bortuzzo do stupid things, watch out. Series over.
2) Get big, Binnington
Speaking of the rookie Calder Trophy finalist, the Blues need him to be as good as he was in the first two rounds, and even better. The Sharks score a lot. They have five players with ten points in the playoffs, and have done most of their damage this past month without Pavelski, so the kid can’t be nervous or stray too far from perfection here.
1) Craig Berube adjustments
One of Chief’s best attributes during his tenure with St. Louis is the ability to change things up on the fly. A line shuffle, furious pep talk, or a wild theory on how to make his team better. Berube will do all of it and must continue to put aside egos and do what is best for this team. If that means Robert Thomas gets more minutes and some veteran gets half as many, so be it. The best part about Berube is his no nonsense attitude and demeanor.
The Blues can win this series. For all the defensive lapses and inconsistent scoring from their top guys, they only allowed 17 goals in the Dallas series, including 4 in the final three games. If they can find a way to outdo the Sharks on special teams, the series can be theirs. Martin Jones may be riding a hot streak since the end of the Vegas series, but he’s no Ben Bishop. Fire away, Colton Parayko. Aim for the clavicle, knee, ribs, and everything else.
My prediction: Blues in 7. The team of destiny gets great goaltending, a big series from Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, and simply outlasts the Sharks in seven games. With more games taking place away from Enterprise Center, I like St. Louis’ chances even more.
I wanted Stan Kroenke’s Colorado Avalanche, but I’ll gladly accept some revenge on San Jose for the painful defeats over the past 20 years. With the Blues, revenge is required everywhere.
One last thing. I don’t believe in the whole “house money” idea. Forget the comeback. Before the season started, predictions had the Blues making it here, so let’s assume they should beat the fucking Sharks and stop treating it like a happy-go-lucky charity case. The Blues were supposed to be here, and have arrived. Let’s keep going, and stop being appreciative for the ride. Haven’t fans done that for the entire 50+ year existence of this team? Get greedy and have fun at the same time.
Just remember to buy more bourbon, because this shit isn’t easy.