No one would blame actor Jon Hamm for being pessimistic when it comes to the St. Louis Blues and their chances of winning the Stanley Cup this season.
The Emmy and Golden Globe award winner, best known for playing Don Draper on the AMC drama "Mad Men," has had his heart ripped out too many times over the years by his beloved hometown Blues.
When they play the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final at Scottrade Center on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), it will mark the first time the Blues have been in a conference final since 2001, when they lost in five games to the Colorado Avalanche. They haven't been to the Stanley Cup Final since 1970, despite reaching the postseason for all but five seasons since 1980.
But Hamm, who grew up in St. Louis and said he has been a Blues fan forever, is confident in his team this spring.
"I used to be that way," Hamm told NHL.com. "As any Blues fan that's been a fan for any length of time will tell you, that pessimism is warranted at this point. But it's been amazing to watch these guys not only through the playoffs, but the regular season and just the resiliency they've had.
"They have fought through a lot of injuries in the regular season, a lot of key guys out for long stretches of time, and I think for the first time in recent memory they hit the playoffs pretty healthy. And when [goaltender] Brian Elliott is doing what he's been doing in goal and our guys do what they have been doing on the forecheck and on the blue line, you think they are playing well in all facets of the game. So that that pessimism is abated somewhat, and of course the results speak for themselves."
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Despite injuries to key players, including defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, goalies Elliott and Jake Allen and forwards Paul Stastny, Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund, Steve Ott, Alexander Steen and Robby Fabbri, the Blues went 49-24-9 in the regular season to finish with 107 points and second place in the Central Division.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, St. Louis defeated the 2015 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round and then beat the Dallas Stars, the top team in the Western Conference during the regular season, in the second round. Each series went seven games.
"They beat a very talented Chicago team and beat them in their building a few times, and that's a challenge in and of itself," Hamm said. "To do that and do it again, down in Dallas, was impressive.
"The Blues have a nice history with both of those organizations. I can remember back in the early '90s when the Blues and the Minnesota North Stars had some really good, epic battles that did not end well for us. It's nice to exorcise a lot of those demons."
This will be the fifth playoff series between the Blues and the Sharks, with each team winning twice. Hamm, who said he cannot get to Games 1 and 2 at Scottrade Center, did attend a Blues-Sharks playoff game in 2001 in San Jose, and ended up watching it with a few Sharks fans.
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"I was shooting [the film] 'We Were Soldiers' in the middle of nowhere in central California, about a two-, two-and-a-half-hour drive from San Jose," Hamm said. "I bought tickets on eBay and drove up. I bought four tickets but I couldn't find anyone on the movie who wanted to go, so I sold the other three back to the San Jose fans I bought them off of and watched the game with them. I told them if the Blues won, I would buy them beers. I bought them beers."
Like the Blues, the Sharks haven't made things easy on their fans, losing in the conference final three times since the 2003-04 season. Hamm said he expects a tight series.
"I don't think it's going to be an easy trip for anybody," Hamm said. "In the playoffs anything can happen; a call here, an offside there, a lucky bounce … and we've been the beneficiary of some of those and been burned by some of those. But there's a reason we're here. It's not because we got lucky. We've put in the work and we've made the right plays."
Still, Hamm admits he will be on "heart attack watch" during the series.
And watch he will. Despite his busy schedule, Hamm said he always "clears the decks" to make sure he can watch his Blues. He said he just finished filming a movie in Atlanta and has been working a lot, but nothing is imminent, which he says is a good thing right now.
"I get to focus on hockey at this time of the year," he said, "and it's a pretty good thing to focus on."