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Conference Final

Sharks vs. Blues playoff preview

Goaltending, special teams among factors that could decide who advances to Stanley Cup Final

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / NHL.com Staff Writer

San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues

Sharks: Defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 in best-of-7 Western Conference First Round; Defeated the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 in the best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round

Blues: Defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 in best-of-7 Western Conference First Round; Defeated the Dallas Stars 4-3 in best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round

Season series: SJS 2-1-0; STL 1-1-1

 

[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Blues series coverage]

 

The skinny

The San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues will play in the Western Conference Final with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at SAP Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, CBC, TVAS). The Sharks are 6-2 at home and the Blues 5-1 on the road in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It a cliche, I know, but you play all year, you put that work in during the season in order to have home ice during the playoffs and for these types of situations," San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. "Obviously every team wants to be playing at home, so we played well at home so far these playoffs and it'll be nice to start at home again."

The Sharks and Blues have faced each other five times in the playoffs, with San Jose winning three times, including a six-game victory in the 2016 conference final. The Sharks' only trip to the Cup Final was that season when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. St. Louis hasn't been there since 1970, its third straight appearance.

"That is going to be another tough series," San Jose forward Joonas Donskoi said. "This was a tough series [against the Avalanche], one-goal games, it was really fun to play. [St. Louis] is going to be the same way, it's going to be tough and we're looking forward to that."

The Blues were last in the NHL on Jan. 3 before going 30-15-5 to finish third in the Central Division. They eliminated the Jets and Stars en route to the conference final.

"That's kind of been the story of the season; when our backs are against the wall we play our best and find a way to fight through it," Blues forward Robert Thomas said. "... We keep on battling and finding a way to keep on moving forward."

The Sharks eliminated the Golden Knights and Avalanche, each in seven games.

"There's four teams still playing," Sharks center Logan Couture said. "If my math's correct, 27 [teams] that are at home wishing they were in this spot. So I've been lucky enough to play in a few Western Conference Finals in my career, and you realize that you can't take them for granted because you never know when the next one's going to come."

San Jose was 2-1-0 against St. Louis this season, winning twice at home.

"It's a grind," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "That's why it's a grind of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's a lot of work, but it's very rewarding. We're moving on to the third round and we're excited. Guys are ready to roll."

 

Game breakers

Sharks: Forward and captain Joe Pavelski, who returned for Game 7 against the Avalanche, proved how valuable he is with a goal and an assist in the win. Centers Tomas Hertl and Couture are tied for the NHL playoff lead in goals (nine) and tied for first in points (14) with teammate Brent Burns (five goals, nine assists) and Colorado forward Mikko Rantanen (six goals, eight assists).

Blues: Forward Jaden Schwartz has scored eight goals, including two game-winners, in 13 playoff games after scoring 11 goals in 69 regular-season games. He has given St. Louis even more depth up front with forward Vladimir Tarasenko (five goals, four on the power play) and Ryan O'Reilly (nine points; two goals, seven assists). Forward Pat Maroon has scored three playoff goals, two of them game-winners, including against the Stars in double overtime of Game 7.

Video: STL@DAL, Gm6: Schwartz deflects home Steen's shot

 

Goaltending

Sharks: Martin Jones has been lights out after allowing 13 goals on 80 shots in Games 1-4 against the Golden Knights. He's 7-3 with a 2.13 goals-against average and .928 save percentage since and was 4-3 with a 2.29 GAA and .916 save percentage against the Avalanche. Backup Aaron Dell is 0-1 in the playoffs, allowing five goals on 36 shots in two relief appearances, having last played in Game 4 of the first round.

Blues: Jordan Binnington is 8-5 with a 2.39 GAA and .915 save percentage and has played every minute of the postseason. He has allowed two goals or fewer in each of his past three starts and in eight of his 13 playoff games. A finalist for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year after going 24-5-1 with a 1.89 GAA (first in NHL), .927 save percentage (tied for fourth) and five shutouts in 32 games (30 starts), Binnington will be the workhorse. Backup Jake Allen was 19-17-8 with a 2.83 GAA, .905 save percentage and three shutouts in 46 games (45 starts) but hasn't played since April 3. He is 9-10 with a 2.10 GAA and .922 save percentage in 22 playoff games (19 starts).

Video: Jones tightens up, leads Sharks to second Game 7 win 

 

Numbers to know

Sharks: They were 21-for-23 on the penalty kill (91.3 percent) in the second round after going 21-for-29 (72.4 percent) in the first round. The Sharks have five players with at least 10 points (Burns, Hertl, Couture, defenseman Erik Karlsson (12 assists) and forward Timo Meier (three goals, seven assists).

Blues: They're 1-for-20 on the power play in the past six games. Schwartz leads the Blues with eight goals. Tarasenko (five) is the only other Blues player with at least five.

 

Injury report

Sharks: With Pavelski returning for Game 7, San Jose does not have any injured players on its roster.

Blues: They enter the series with a fully healthy roster and had zero man-games lost to injury in the second round.

 

They said it

"We are a resilient group here. We know what we want, we know what we have to do to be successful and know we just have to find a way to do it a little more consistently throughout a series. It's a great challenge for us playing St. Louis and I think this group is definitely up for the test." -- Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson 

"You're around this group of guys and a lot of people say we have a close room, and we do because that's a resilient effort from where we were in December to get to where we are now. Sometimes you've just got to look back and be proud of the effort. It's been a long road, but we just keep on pushing and it's taken everybody right now, but we're finding a way." -- Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo

Video: STL@DAL, Gm6: Pietrangelo nets shot through traffic

 

Will win if...

Sharks: They continue to get depth scoring; they have 10 players who have scored at least two goals in the playoffs, and five with at least 10 points. If the penalty kill and defense remains strong and Jones plays at an elite level, San Jose will be in good shape to advance to the Cup Final. The Sharks are 39-0-0 this season, including 7-0 in the playoffs, when they allow two goals or fewer.

Blues: They have the same level of goaltending and defense they had against the Stars. The Blues allowed 17 goals in the seven games, including four in the final three. St. Louis needs to be better on the penalty kill, having allowed at least one power-play goal in four of seven games against Dallas.

 

How they look

 

Sharks projected lineup

Timo Meier -- Logan Couture - Gustav Nyquist

Evander Kane -- Tomas Hertl -- Joe Pavelski

Marcus Sorensen -- Joe Thornton -- Kevin Labanc

Joonas Donskoi -- Barclay Goodrow -- Melker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon -- Erik Karlsson

Joakim Ryan -- Justin Braun

Martin Jones

Aaron Dell

Scratched: Micheal Haley, Dylan Gambrell, Tim Heed, Lukas Radil, Radim Simek, Antti Suomela
 
 

Blues projected lineup

Jaden Schwartz -- Brayden Schenn -- Vladimir Tarasenko

Sammy Blais -- Ryan O'Reilly -- David Perron

Pat Maroon -- Tyler Bozak -- Robert Thomas

Ivan Barbashev -- Oskar Sundqvist -- Alexander Steen

Joel Edmundson -- Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester -- Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn -- Carl Gunnarsson

Jordan Binnington

Jake Allen

Scratched: Robby Fabbri, Robert Bortuzzo, Michael Del Zotto, Zach Sanford, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn, Ville Husso

NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this story

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