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NHL Playoffs 2016, Sharks vs. Blues: Looking at keys to the series

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Let's take a look at the teams in three key categories.

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The Sharks won both their first and second round series after I previewed them using this format, so I think it makes sense to stick with what works. San Jose opens its fourth Western Conference Final in franchise history on Sunday against the St. Louis Blues, a team the Sharks held a 2-1 edge against in the season series.

Season series record doesn't mean a whole lot, in my opinion (see: Predators, Nashville) but the Sharks outscored the Blues 9-5 in those three games and 5-3 at even strength. That's not too shabby. In favor of completeness, let's look at how the Sharks and Blues match up in three key categories.

Possession

This category is pretty close. The Sharks regular season 5v5 fenwick-for percentage (oh my god we need a shorter way to write this) sits at 53.3 while the Blues racked up a 52.7 mark. St. Louis' corsi numbers were a bit more impressive (52.5 compared to 52.1) while the Sharks hold a clear edge in creating scoring chances (54.2 scoring chances for percentage for San Jose compared to 52.2 for St. Louis).

Edge: Let's call it a draw.

Goaltending

The Blues posted the third-highest even-strength save percentage in the NHL this season (.931) while the Sharks' numbers ended quite a bit more pedestrian (.922). We don't care about the team save percentages though, because it's unlikely we'll see a backup in this series. So how does Martin Jones compare to Brian Elliott? Well...it doesn't get a whole lot better.

In 42 games Elliott posted an incredible .938 even strength save percentage and Jake Allen notched .928 in 47 contests. Those are both certainly more impressive than Jones' .925 in 65 games, but James Reimer's .940 in 40 games sits atop the list. As I said before, both Reimer and Allen are unlikely to factor in the series so when comparing just Elliott and Jones...well, easy call here. If you're wondering about all strength save percentages... Elliott has a .930 and Jones a .918. Like I said, easy call.

Edge: Gotta be the Blues.

Special Teams

Looking at special teams rates is just a piece of the puzzle — but they're the edge pieces. The Sharks' power play percentage of 22.5 was the third best in the NHL during the regular season and it hasn't shown any signs of slowing down in the playoffs. Compare that to the Blues mark of 21.5 percent, which was sixth best in the NHL. Those numbers are close...the penalty kill numbers? Not so much.

St. Louis' penalty kill percentage of 85.2 is third in the NHL while the Sharks 80.1 mark is all the way down at 21st. So by rate, the edge has to be given to the Blues...but that's not the only stat we should look at, of course. High-danger scoring chance seems to be a great way to evaluate special teams play — so let's take a gander.

The Sharks posted the third-highest high-danger scoring chances for per 60 minutes mark of 24.9 while the Blues sat dead last with a mark of 13.4. Looking at the penalty kill the Sharks were fifth-worst in the NHL with a 23.2 and the Blues were 19th in the NHL with a 21.2. So the Blues may have gotten a bit lucky on the penalty kill (mixed with great goaltending) while the Sharks' penalty kill was merely mediocre.

Edge: This one's close, too, but I'll give it to the Sharks based on their scoring chance numbers.

So...this series is going to be very tight. Buckle up.