Three years ago this May, the San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues met in the Western Conference Final. Right now, these two teams are both firing on all cylinders down the stretch and could find themselves in another playoff meeting this summer.
Both teams are surging at the right time. The Sharks (40-19-8) have 88 points and are second in the Pacific Division. More importantly, they have moved within one point of the Calgary Flames for the top spot in the Western Conference.
The Blues (36-25-6) have 78 points this season. They are third in the Central Division, but are just three points up on the Dallas Stars who are holding on to number one spot in the wild card race. Since the turn of 2019, St. Louis has gone 21-7-2 to work themselves back into playoff position. As Sharks fans know, if things start clicking at the right time, a team can do damage in the NHL’s second season.
Today, the Blues have a tough decision to make: which hot goaltender to go with. Jake Allen shutout the Los Angeles Kings 4-0 on Thursday. While rookie netminder, Jordan Binnington, has worked his way into the Calder conversation with a 16-3-1 record that includes five shutouts, a 1.80 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. Technically, it’s Binnington’s turn to mind the net, but interim Blues’ coach Craig Berube told St. Louis media yesterday that the decision is still up in the air.
There’s also some offensive firepower to worry about. Ryan O’Reilly is having a great season for the Blues, with 66 points (26 goals, 40 assists). He’s often flanked by Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko on the team’s top line. Schenn just returned from an injury and registered four points (one goal, three assists) in the two games he’s played since coming off the injured reserve (IR) list. Tarasenko leads the team with 28 goals, including 11 on the power play.
On the IR for the Blues, veteran David Perron, who is suffering from an upper body injury.
Will the injury and flu bug bite the Sharks?
Speaking of injuries, will it hurt the Sharks today? Evander Kane has missed three games with an undisclosed injury, there’s no word if he’ll play today. Erik Karlsson has also missed three games because he reaggravated his groin injury during the Feb. 26 game against the Boston Bruins. For Karlsson, looks like he’ll be out for a while.
Erik Karlsson guarantees that he'll be healthy in time for #SJSharks playoff run.— Paul Gackle (@GackleReport) March 8, 2019
'100 percent. Should be no issues for (playoffs). It's just whether I can get a few games in before, which would be nice.'
The flu is also working its way through the Sharks’ lineup. Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns were deemed good to go for Thursday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, but looked a step slow in the game. They skipped yesterday’s practice, but I would guess that was to make sure they would be good to go today.
Once the flu bug hits, it’s tough to keep it away from the locker room. It’s possible one or two other Sharks will catch the bug before it goes away completely.
Can the kids continue to make the difference?
With the big guys feeling a little under the weather, it’s going to be up to the younger players to keep up the pace. The brilliance of this season’s Sharks is the ability to be an offensive threat no matter what line is on the ice. Against a team like the Blues, that depth is going to be necessary.
Joonas Donskoi (three assists in the last two games), Melker Karlsson (a pair of goals in last two games), Kevin Labanc (five assists in five games), Timo Meier (one goal in each of his last three games) and Marcus Sorensen (four goals and an assist in last three games) will all need to keep up the scoring.
And while he’s not technically a “kid,” I’d love to see Gustav Nyquist continue to integrate himself into the Sharks’ system and get a few points today.
The Joe Thornton watch
Jumbo has a chance to pass a number of NHL greats on various all-time lists this season and one of those moves could happen today.
Thornton has a total of 1,466 career points. He needs just one more to tie Stan Mikita for 14th on the all-time points list. If he gets two, he passes Mikita.
Thornton currently sits at 1,055 assists. He needs just eight more assists to tie Steve Yzerman for eighth on the all-time assists list.
Thornton has played a total of 1,551 games in his career. He needs to play just three more including today’s game to tie Jarome Iginla for 13th on the all-time games played list.
Cherish it folks, we’re watching history.
Bonus: Will the early start hurt the team?
Sheng Peng took a look at whether the afternoon start is bad for the Sharks or if it just looks that way. It’s worth a look considering today’s game is a 1 p.m. start time.
Bold Prediction: It’s going to be tough against a St. Louis team that’s a little more desperate than the Sharks are. They’ll run into a hot goaltender and Jones just won’t be up to the competition. The Blues will win 4-2.
Think I’m crazy? Love what I said? Either way, drop your prediction below and we’ll see you at game time.