The Western Conference Final Game 1 is finished as both the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues survived a seven-game series in Round Two, to reach the precipice of the Stanley Cup Final. The Sharks squeaked by the Colorado Avalanche team while the Blues went the distance with the Central Division rival Dallas Stars. From Jim Biringer of Boston Hockey Now, who is their resident Xs and Os writer, here is a look at the Western Conference Final. San Jose won Game 1, 6-3.
- Goaltending – Martin Jones has come a long way from the regular season. Thanks in part to Evgeni Nabakov and Johan Hedberg, Jones turned his game around after Game 4, Round One against Vegas. Since then, Jones has been lights out for San Jose. St. Louis will be a peculiar challenge for Jones as St. Louis likes to cause chaos in front of the net. In the other net, Jordan Binnington has played more like a veteran than a rookie. Binnington has calmed the Blues on several occasions when series seemed to be getting away. Goaltending is no longer a question for the Blues. The Sharks also like to drive hard to the net.
- Special Teams – Just like in the Eastern Conference Final, special teams will be huge for both teams. The Sharks power play has been resurgent and is the main reason they have advanced. If it was not for four power-play goals against Vegas in Round One, the Sharks would not be in this position. St. Louis will need to avoid the penalty box. Conversely, the St. Louis power play is not as electric but they have the weapons to make life miserable for San Jose.
- Physical Play – Both teams are physical. San Jose thrives on physicality but can open it up with their speed. It might be wise for San Jose to play a speed game since St. Louis is healthier are healthier and loves to wear teams down. That is what made them so good in the first two rounds. Winnipeg and Dallas could not answer the bell as St. Louis just kept hitting and did not tire. Something will have to give.
- Home Ice Advantage – The Sharks have a playoff-best 7-2 home record. St. Louis has the best road record in the playoffs (5-2). The Shark Tank is an advantage for San Jose. However, the St. Loius attitude serves them well on the road. Which team will blink?
- Team Depth – Both teams have great depth on offense and defense. Each team acquired payoffs at the trade deadline to be in this position. Through the first two rounds, the depth players have gotten it done for both sides. The Sharks depth has an edge with more skill and speed. The Blues will need more depth scoring if they want to win this series and advance.
San Jose and St. Louis are both chasing the first Stanley Cup in organization history. San Jose made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 but they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. St. Louis has not been to a Stanley Cup Final since 1970 when Bobby Orr scored the most iconic goal in Stanley Cup history. 1970 marked the third straight year the Blues went to the Stanley Cup Final.