2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Blues Take 3-2 Lead in WCF, Beat Sharks 5-0

Photo credit: @PR_NHL

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE — The St. Louis Blues took a 3-2 lead in the NHL Western Conference Final, by defeating the San Jose Sharks 5-0 at SAP Center Sunday.

St. Louis got goals from Oskar Sundqvist, Vladimir Tarasenko and a hat trick from Jaden Schwartz. Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington made 21 saves in the shutout win.

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones made 35 saves in a losing effort. Through the game, San Jose was penalized eight times and lost four players to injury for several minutes or more. Only one of those returned to play in the third period.

After the game, Sharks forward Logan Couture commented on what he saw of the hits that sent Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl out of the game: “I saw the Hertl hit, I just saw the replay. Yeah, that’s a tough one. But, I mean they had one earlier, in Game 3, I believe on Braun. I think it was Game 3. And nothing happened, so they can do it again, right?”

Evander Kane hit a post in the first moments of Sunday’s game. Asked whether a goal there would have changed the momentum significantly, Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer said:

I think a few things could have changed the game. I thought we played well enough to come out of that first maybe up. I thought, arguably, a five-minute major on Tommy Hertl, that if it’s called, you know, that’s a momentum changing play right there. But we come out of the first down one-nothing and then Hertl can’t go, and you know, Karlsson can’t go and so we started taking on some water. I thought they took over in the second period. And then when Pav got hit high we lost our composure there in the third. And, not our finest moment but I understand where that emotion’s coming from with what he’s been through. We’ve just got to regroup, got to go in and win a game.

The Sharks had some excellent chances off the hop, including that Kane shot off the post. Then, at 5:50, the Blues got on the board. Erik Karlsson went down behind his own net to move the puck out, and sent it up the boards for Brenden Dillon. It went between Dillon’s skates and off the boards back into open ice. While the Sharks kept an eye on Alexander Steen and Pat Maroon in their zone, Oskar Sundqvist sped out of the neutral zone and shot the puck. Erik Karlsson had moved into the lane and Sundqvist used him as a screen, so the puck went right by Jones. That was the first of three unassisted goals in a row.

The Sharks out-shot the Blues 11-4 in the first, but the Blues won 56% of the faceoffs. Logan Couture had a notable drop off in face-off performance, against a number of Blues players after five minutes. The Sharks had two shots on their first period power play.

The start of the second was less good for the Sharks. After five minutes, the Blues had another goal and a 10-1 shot lead. The goal came off an ill-conceived attempt to move the puck across the slot by Jones. He was trying to clear the puck away after Brenden Dillon blocked the shot on its way in, but Jaden Schwartz skated to the net and put the puck around Jones without anyone getting in his way.

Moments later, the Blues were awarded a penalty shot after Brent Burns tripped Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko put a shot over Jones’ glove into the top corner to make it 3-0. That was at 6:53. At 10:43, the Blues were on a four-minute power play after Donskoi caught Steen in the mouth with his stick. That did not last long as Tyler Bozak got called for holding Evander Kane. The two minute four-on-four generated little for either team, and the Sharks killed off the rest of the Blues power play.

With five left in the period, the shots were 18-4 Blues. By the end of the period, the Blues outshot the Sharks 20-6. the Blues also improved their faceoff advantage to 57%. Tomas Hertl was the only Shark to take more than five faceoffs and win more than 50% of them. He won 70%. On the Blues’ side, Tyler Bozak and Brayden Schenn won just over 70% of their face-offs.

Erik Karlsson did not skate during the last seven or so minutes of the period.

The Sharks started the second period with a pair of penalties, putting the Blues on a two minute five-on-three power play at 1:55. With Micheal Haley and Barclay Goodrow both in the box, Jaden Schwartz scored with a pin-balling shot that put the Blues up 4-0 at 2:19. Assists went to David Perron and Tarasenko.

The Sharks managed to kill off the remainder of the second penalty.

Before the middle of the third period, Tomas Hertl, Joe Pavelski, Erik Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi were all in the dressing room for repairs or worse. Donskoi skated two shifts at the start of the period before leaving with a bleeding face. Pavelski skated one shift. Hertl and Karlsson did not skate in the third.

Micheal Haley joined them for unsportsmanlike conduct and an additional misconduct. A tripping penalty to Timo Meier put the Sharks on another five-on-three penalty kill.

Donskoi returned to the game after the ten minute mark, with just under eight minutes remaining.

The Sharks got their second power play of the game at 13:12. They did not score. The Blues did, at 16:02. Another defensive collapse from the remaining Sharks allowed Schwartz to get open on that same side again. Another assist went to Tarasenko.

With a little more than two minutes remaining, Evander Kane took some penalty time: two for goaltender interference, two for slashing Edmundson, and a little more for misconduct.

Game 6 will be on Tuesday at the Enterprise Center at 5:00 PM PT.

Sharks Win Western Conference Final 4-2

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: San Jose Sharks celebrate their first Western Conference title in franchise history with the Western Conference title Cup on Wednesday night at SAP Center

SAN JOSE– The San Jose Sharks punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday, by defeating the St. Louis Blues 5-2 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final. The 4-2 series win represents the first time the Sharks have prevailed in a conference final, the first time they will compete for the Cup.

Joe Pavelski scored the first goal of the game, Joonas Donskoi scored the fourth, Joel Ward scored the two in between and Logan Couture tidied up with an empty net goal. Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice for the Blues late in the third period. Sharks goaltender Martin Jones made 24 stops for the historic win, while Brian Elliott made 22 for the Blues.

It is the third time that some of the Sharks have been to the Western Conference Final, among these is Joe Thornton. He talked about the win after the game:

It’s a pretty cool feeling. Obviously it’s our first time here so it was pretty neat to get this done at home. Fans here have waited so long, 25 years, and we’ve waited” here he turned to verify with Patrick Marleau, “18 years or so. So it’s a great feeling. And this team, we’ve always said we’ve got a deep team and we truly believe we’ve got a deep team. And you saw tonight all twelve forwards played big parts, all six D played big parts and Joner played great. This is really truly a team effort from top to bottom.”

Patrick Marleau said he does not wonder why this group has made it so much farther than previous Sharks teams:

“We’re just enjoying the ride right now. We’ve had some really good teams over the years but like Joe was saying, this team’s a little bit different. The confidence we built over the regular season and now in the playoffs. I think winning on the road helped us get close as a group during the regular season and it carried over into the playoffs so far. Just having each other’s back out there and working for each other.

Head coach Pete DeBoer said that he believed this team could get this far right at the start of the season. This, despite or perhaps because of their troubled recent seasons:

They were coming off a down season but they were coming off a decade of great hockey. They had been well coached. Todd McLellan and the previous staff are as good as there are in the business. These guys had a great foundation. Right place, right time. Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different. But that and the additions Doug [Wilson, Sharks GM] made, it just came together.

“I inherited a similiar team in New Jersey when I went there. Same type of thing, they had missed the playoffs for the first time in a long time the year before I got there. I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like there was with this group. They’re pissed off, they’re embarassed by the year they just had and they’re willing to do and buy into whatever you’re selling to get it fixed again.”

Today I heard someone suggest that the other three teams in these conference finals get more air time than the San Jose Sharks do because there is nothing controversial about the Sharks. They are not swapping their goalies around, they are not switching their lines around, their star players are not underperforming, there is no supplementary drama. They just go out and do what they are supposed to do. But for fans of this team, this playoff run has been very dramatic, very suspenseful. They may be cheering like mad in the audience, but there are a lot of fans just holding their breath through every game.

The Sharks played up to that hum-drum reputation when Joe Pavelski got credit for the first goal of the game just 3:57 in. Assists went to Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl.

Apart from the last half minute of the period, the Sharks won the first period handily. Those final thirty seconds were getting out of hand, as the Sharks failed to clear several times and had the puck snatched away from them a few more. But they were saved by the bell and came away form the first with a 1-0 lead and a 9-5 shot advantage.

Seconds after that shot, play went the other way and the Tierney line wrought some havoc in the Blues’ zone. A Brent Burns shot went off Joel Ward’s stick for his fifth goal of the playoffs. Assists went to Burns and Tierney.

The Sharks earned their first power play when Troy Brouwer took an interference penalty early in the second period. San Jose’s power play did not convert but did bump their shot count to 13 without alowing the Blues to take a shot before close to the five minute mark of the period.

Scottie Upshall, back in the Blues lineup after sitting out the last three games, caught Tommy Wingels in the face with a high stick at 6:08 and drew blood, earning himself a double minor.

The four minutes of power play time seemed to lull the Sharks into complacency, or else it galvanized the Blues. The Blues took a couple of short-handed shots and the Sharks had more trouble getting through the neutral zone than they had previously. They accomplished the most immediate goal: of maintaining a two goal lead.

That was not enough for coach DeBoer. He used his timeout with just over five minutes left in the period. The Sharks had been scrambling and the Blues were making up ground on the shot clock. The end of the second had that in common with the end of the first: the Blues pushed the Sharks and Martin Jones had to make a few more stops. The Couture line had a good shift in the final 20 seconds but the Blues outshot the Sharks in the second, 11-10.

That second line picked up where they left off to start the third period, crowding into the Blues’ zone and making Elliott stop a shot from close in. It took them a few more shifts, but they finally caught what they were hunting: a third goal. It was only part of the Couture line. Ward was on the ice momentarily instead of Donskoi. As a result, he scored his second of the game and seventh of the playoffs. Assists went to Couture and Patrick Marleau.

The crowd went a little bit crazy. Richard Dean Anderson was shown helping duct tape Sharkie’s drum back together in one of the tunnels.

The Blues ruined the shut out with 8:21 left in the game. Vladimir Tarasenko got his first point in the series by way of a goal. Assists went to Jori Lehtera and Colton Parayko.

At 15:35, the teams were both penalized after a scuffle by the benches. Tommy Wingels (slashing) and Kevin Shattenkirk (cross-checking) both went to the box for two minutes. The Blues pulled Elliott for the additional skater and Tarasenko made a game of it with a second goal at 16:25. It squeezed through a gap between Jones’ blocker and the pipe. Assists went to Paul Stasny and Alex Pietrangelo. The Blues tried the same shot again a few seconds later but Jones adjusted.

The Blues continued to push right to the end of the period, until Logan Couture was able to put the puck in the empty net.

The Sharks will play the winner of the Eastern Conference Final in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

Sharks and Blues: Western Conference Final Preview

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: St Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott stops a shot from the San Jose Sharks Patrick Marleau 12 as Blues defenceman Cotton Parayko 55 watches on Sunday night in the third period

The Western Conference Final is upon us. Past results reveal that the San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues have followed very similar paths to this point, and neither team is a clear choice for favorite. Even intangibles cannot give us a hint. Both San Jose and St. Louis are hungry for success. The Sharks have never made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and the Blues have not been there since 1970. They both unseated recent Cup winners in the first round. They both defeated up and coming teams in the second round, by the a five goal margin, in the seventh game. The likeness is uncanny, and utterly proper. The final teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs should be equals, it is only right that the results be entirely unpredictable. The results of the Stanley Cup Final could be easier to predict, especially with the Eastern teams taking such heavy casualties after just one game. I predict that the Western team will win the Cup, and that team will be from a city named after a saint.

A glance at the current NHL Leaderboard shows three Sharks leading in playoff scoring categories. In points, goals, and assists, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns top those charts. Logan Couture is in the top three in all of those categories, while Pavelski and Burns are top five in two. The Blues have two players in each of these categories, with Vladimir Tarasenko listed in the top five in points and goals, Robby Fabbri top ten in points and assists, and David Backes ranked fifth in goals. The teams are pretty close when it comes to high ranking for their top scorers.

Those numbers tell us which players the opponent will zero in on defensively. They also tell us, by omission, which players previous opponents probably spent most of their defensive energy on. For the Sharks, Joe Thornton did not rack up quite as many points as he might be expected to, especially being one of Joe Pavelski’s linemates. Joel Ward fell from fifth to eighth on the team in goals. Tomas Hertl dropped from fourth to ninth on the team in goals. Patrick Marleau should have produced more, especially since he spent so much time not on a line with Couture or Thornton. I say that because he should have been able to slip under the radar of the Kings or the Predators, if the top lines drew top defense away. So either Marleau did get the defensive attention he can deserve, or he just was not playing that well. Either way, he is one who could suddenly start producing in this series.

Even if underproducing players do not break out, how many goal scorers has it taken to get the Sharks this far, compared to the Blues? The Sharks have seven players with three or more goals in these playoffs. Apart from the league leaders mentioned above, the Sharks have four goals from Marleau, three each from Thornton, Chris Tierney, and Joonas Donskoi. Joel Ward, Tomas Hertl and Melker Karlsson have two each. Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels each have one tally.

For the Blues, eight players have scored three or more goals. Tarasenko has seven, Backes has six, Troy Brouwer has five, Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund each have four, while Robby Fabbri, Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stasny each have three. Seven more St. Louis skaters have one or two goals. During the regular season, Tarasenko also led his team in goals, and the rest of the top six were essentially the same as they have been in the playoffs: Backes, Brouwer, Fabbri and Steen.

Though none of the Blues defensemen can challenge Brent Burns in the scoring department, St. Louis has gotten more points from their defense than the Sharks have. They have four defensemen with four or more points, Kevin Shattenkirk leading there with ten points. The Sharks have four defensemen with three or more points, Justin Braun and Paul Martin having just three.

The Blues have three more goal scorers than the the Sharks have, but the Sharks have scored .28 more goals per game. The Blues have given up a few more goals (2.43) than the Sharks have (2.33), if you go by games played. One could argue that the Sharks should not have it held against them that they did not give up goals in games they did not play by defeating the Kings so quickly. But since the Blues and the Sharks will play the same number of games in this series, games played is probably a better measure than total goals against.

The Sharks’ 30.9% power play is the best among teams in the final four. The Blues are right behind them with a 27.5% success rate. The Sharks’ penalty kill is a couple of ranking spots higher than the Blues, with San Jose at 82.3% and St. Louis at 79.5%. Either of those special team rankings could be reversed in the course of a single game, so again the teams are darn close.

The Blues gave up more shots (31.3) per game than the Sharks did (28.5) , but not many more. The Blues played Chicago and Dallas, while the Sharks played Los Angeles and Nashville. The habits of their respective opponents may have skewed those figures. During the regular season games, the Sharks consistently outshot the Blues, but usually by a fairly small margin.

In the playoffs, faceoff win percentages are be heavily influenced by the opponent, but it is still worth looking at. The Blues have been better at 50.7 % than the Sharks at 46.2%. Both teams were better during the regular season, but the Blues were a little better there too at 51.3% to the Sharks’ 50.7%. Thornton and Hertl are the only Sharks who have won better than 50% of their faceoffs in the first two rounds, and Hertl has only taken 20 draws. For the Blues, Paul Stastny, David Backes and Jori Lehtera took the lion’s share of faceoffs in both the regular season and the playoffs, and all three are over 50%. Paul Stastny won an impressive 59% of his draws in the first two rounds.

Could it come down to goaltending? Brian Elliott gives the Blues and edge in save percentage (.929-.918), Jones has the edge in goals against average (2.16-2.29), and they each have one shutout. Elliott is the more seasoned starter, but he has never gotten so far in the playoffs. Jones has seen his team win a Cup, but was only there as a backup. Both teams have above-average backups, but only the Blues’ Jake Allen saw any ice time in the first two rounds. Again, and again and again, the Sharks and the Blues look so close on paper that neither clearly has an edge.

The victor will be the team that bests their best first.