Each Wednesday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the game that intrigues him most that night. Weekes will also be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
The San Jose Sharks are one win away from erasing past Stanley Cup Playoff failures and getting to the franchise's first Stanley Cup Final in their 25-year history. They used a three-goal third period to defeat the St. Louis Blues 6-3 in Game 5 on Monday to take a 3-2 series lead.
The Sharks were a disappointing 18-20-3 at home this season but are 6-2 in the postseason. The Blues look to win their third elimination game of these playoffs.
St. Louis aims to keep its season alive and San Jose looks to advance to its first Stanley Cup Final in Game 6 at SAP Center on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Here's my breakdown of the game:
Video: SJS@STL, Gm5: Pavelski redirects puck for second goal
Pluses: The Blues can play a physical game and if they do that with discipline, unlike in Game 5, are physically responsible and are sound with their positioning whistle-to-whistle, they force San Jose's skill to have to pay a steeper price to make plays and get into a position to make plays. The Blues allowed two power-play goals on three chances in Game 5.
Their backs are against the wall, which I believe they can leverage and use to their advantage. At this point, they're playing on the road and not expected to win Game 6. Right from the outset, they need to be desperate. They can't feel their way into this game; they have to attack and be on their toes.
The last game the Blues played at San Jose (Game 4) is exactly the way they are capable of playing when they are at their best and precisely the way they need to play. Except for a letdown in the third period of a 6-3 win in Game 4, the Blues need to play a carbon copy of that game. They took a 4-0 lead into the third period, scoring twice on the power play and not allowing the Sharks to score in five power-play opportunities.
St. Louis played almost perfectly in Game 4 and proved it is capable of winning at SAP Center. The Blues are 6-3 on the road this postseason and have won twice when facing elimination, including a 6-1 win in Game 7 at the Dallas Stars in the second round.
Video: SJS@STL, Gm5: Fabbri cranks power-play goal for lead
Minuses: The Blues haven't been as structured defensively in this series as we know they should be, given their coaching staff and how good of a job they've done there. In the playoffs, they've allowed too many shots and had too many needless giveaways. The Blues have allowed three goals or more in each of the past four games.
Secondly, they take too many penalties. When you have a physical team that has guys that are willing to compete like St. Louis, you have to play smart but don't give San Jose life. The Blues should be trying to get the Sharks frustrated since they can score on the power play, too.
Lastly, which Blues team shows up? I think the fact that they have gotten to the Western Conference Final despite all the injuries they've had this season is incredible, But since they are here, two wins away from the Cup Final, they have to bring their A-game.
Pluses: San Jose has tons of depth. This is the deepest Sharks team that I have seen in all my years. Because of that, the matchups aren't as critical to coach Peter DeBoer as they are to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. The performances he is getting out of his third and fourth lines have been amazing. You look at Chris Tierney, Dainius Zubrus, Melker Karlsson and Tommy Wingels, and they've been incredible. The depth players are responsible, but they can play against anyone with the way they have been playing.
And this is on top of the play of the top six group, including Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, who have had great offensive production in the playoffs. Joel Ward is a playoff performer and Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi have emerged in the playoffs.
The Sharks' power play has been sizzling and they can attack in different ways. They've scored four goals on 15 opportunities in the past four games and have at least one power-play goal in 11 of 17 playoff games.
Video: SJS@STL, Gm5: Ward cleans up rebound out of midair
Minuses: The Sharks can't approach this game mentally and in terms of the way they approached Game 4 at home when they had a chance to take a 3-1 lead in the series. They need to treat Game 6 like its Game 7 because if they don't win, they'll have to go back to St. Louis.
San Jose also needs to be disciplined. I like that they added defenseman Roman Polak, who played eight seasons for the Blues. Its emotional playing against a former team and Polak has helped solidify that back end, adding some snarl to it. But Polak and some of the other players need to be disciplined because the Blues don't score as naturally, so a power play could help them.
The Sharks' checking in Game 5 and their play away from the puck was excellent, but they haven't brought that to every game since they can score. When they do that, they are very difficult to match up against and it's tough to find ice and make plays against them.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Do the Blues play their physical but responsible game?
2. Does Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko finally make an adjustment on offense? He won't get to shoot from his favorite sports to score goals, so will he get to the net like Sharks captain Joe Pavelski?
3. Does San Jose finally put past playoff failures to rest in front of its home fans?