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Why The Sharks Can Beat The St. Louis Blues in Round 3
Round 3 prognostications
5/14/16 - By Zach Bodenstein -

The San Jose Sharks were pushed on to the brink of elimination for the first time in these Stanley Cup playoffs, but that only propelled the club to have its most dominant performance of the postseason in Game 7 against Nashville. Now, they head to St. Louis for the Western Conference Final against a healthy and scary Blues team.

The Sharks have not been this far in the postseason since the infamous 2011 Western Conference Final against Vancouver. This core knows that they must be better than they were then and in 2010 against Chicago, with a much better opportunity to slay the dragon and reach the franchise's first cup final.

The series against the Predators was all about momentum. When the Sharks' top guys were rolling, the team was winning. The Sharks are 8-0 in the playoffs when Joe Pavelski records a point, and Logan Couture set a franchise record for points in a playoff series with 11 against Nashville, also leading the entire NHL in playoff scoring.

The goal will be to have these guys contribute every night, while simultaneously having the depth players step up as they did with Joel Ward and Chris Tierney.

Pete DeBoer made two adjustments that may have altered this team's offensive structure, putting Patrick Marleau with Logan Couture - of which really got Marleau going and is encouraging for the Sharks moving forward - and slotting the experienced Dainius Zubrus in on the fourth line.

Zubrus had been a healthy scratch all postseason long, but really showed his leadership and tenacity in the two games that he played against the Predators.

With the injury to Matt Nieto early in Game 6, Tommy Wingels drew back in after sitting out, and played his best game in months with a chip on his shoulder. His forecheck was notorious, and he was getting pucks to the net. All of the things that his game was missing prior to his absence.

Now, the Sharks must deal with their toughest opponent yet, a team that dismantled the Blackhawks and Stars in seven games each.

The Sharks cannot be making the turnovers that they did against Nashville. On a few occasions, easily-preventable turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones led to goals and immense momentum shifts. Against this Blues team, the Sharks are going to get burned on almost every bad turnover.

The Blues have played 14 games to the Sharks' 12, and their toughness has been on display after dispatching of two of their biggest rivals in the previous two rounds.

The Sharks' toughness really picked up from the first round in Game 7 at home and it led to minimal scoring chances against, and the majority of the play in the opposition's end. The Blues are a very deep team and are now healthy. This matchup is tougher than Los Angeles.

Brian Elliott has looked outstanding at times, but has had some bad games. With the Sharks' offensive showings in the playoffs, it will be a key to get to him early and set the tone. These are the two highest scoring teams in the playoffs. Both teams can generate offense from all lines. Both teams can defend very well and roll their 12 forwards and 6 defensemen.

The Sharks' powerplay has been lethal thus far, and their penalty kill has been much improved, as it has been known to be their Achilles heel this season. The Sharks have the edge in both departments in special teams.

The Sharks went 2-1 against St. Louis this season, including both wins in Scottrade Center, where they will play the first two games of this series, by a combined score of 9-4. The Blues' only win of the season series was at SAP Center, where Brian Elliott was the only reason for victory in a 1-0 shutout, recording 37 stops in a game that San Jose dominated - as they really did the entire season series.

While this is not entirely indicative of how this series will go, it is noteworthy that the Blues brought out the best in the Sharks in the regular season, as the Kings did, as they know how tough this matchup is. After finally experiencing adversity for the first time in the playoffs, the Sharks came out and had the Game 7 performance against Nashville that they did. They hope that the momentum that they built up from that game can carry over against St. Louis.

The Sharks have been one of the league's best shot blocking teams, and against a relentless offence like St. Louis', it is key that this keeps up. The Blues' have played a lot of tough hockey over the past month, and the league's best road team must take advantage of that early in the series and get home in a good position, as the team has won five straight at home.

The key for the Sharks is going to have to play their game, as both teams are going to roll all of their players consistently, and the Sharks are fresher with new guys recently drawing in.

The Sharks just need to keep the Blues to the outside, and pile up the shots on goal while intensifying the forecheck. If they do this, they are in a good position to win this series.

The Blues have a lot of weapons and different options, but the Sharks can go tic for tac with any team in the league in terms of line matches, as the fourth line was brilliant in shutting down Ryan Johansen's line, and then Colin Wilson's line when they were red hot - proving why this series is expected to be such a stalemate.

Both teams have deserved this for years, are dominant, well-coached, and are two of the deepest teams in the league.

Game one is Sunday night at 5:00 PM PST in St. Louis.

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