If last night’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Final between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues looked familiar, you’re not alone. Yes, it’s the second third round match up between these two teams in just four years, but that’s not what I mean. The Sharks dominated possession for most of the game, held the Blues to 31 shots, scored five, and largely insulated goaltender Martin Jones from most of the dangerous chances. If that reminded you of the first game of this postseason against the Vegas Golden Knights, as it did me, then we aren’t celebrating yet.
The Blues are a formidable opponent and, much like the Knights, seemed intent on dominating the game physically more than on the score sheet. If that’s their strategy, the Sharks would be wise to avoid post-whistle extra curricular activity and try to put this series to bed as fast as possible, aided, it seems, by power plays the Blues seem intent on giving them. San Jose can use St. Louis’ apparent penchant for pugnacity to pull them out of position and exploit them in the only way that really matters.
Either way, the Sharks are just three wins away from a second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in four years, and what better way to prepare for that possibility than continuing to research their would-be opponents? The Sharks probably can’t afford to look that far ahead; don’t win four games win one game four times and all that, but we labor under no such responsibility.
What’s on tap
Carolina Hurricanes at Boston Bruins Game 2 (BOS leads 1-0)
12 p.m. PT/3 p.m. ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
With Carolina’s loss to the Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, concerns about Boston’s lethal power play were fully realized. Scoring on two of their five man advantage opportunities brought the Bruins up to a 30 percent efficiency in this postseason (12 goals on 40 power plays), making it all the more imperative that the Hurricanes find a way to keep Game 2 at even strength as much as possible.
The Bruins are truly rolling, as their 5-2 win in Game 1 was their fourth in a row, ending a six-game winning streak for Carolina. During Boston’s four wins, they never trailed until Thursday night, so if nothing else, the ‘Canes have proven that a proverbial god-king can bleed. They’ll be in for what is assumed to be tougher sledding today, though, as top blue liner Charlie McAvoy is slated to return for Boston, bumping Steven Kampfer out of the line up. Kampfer scored in Game 1, though, so maybe this will help?
Nino Niederreiter: One of the biggest keys to the Hurricanes return to relevance late this regular season was the
theft of a century acquisition of Niederreiter from a blind baby the Minnesota Wild. Scoring 30 points in 36 games made Niederreiter the ninth highest scorer on the team, despite playing fewer than half as many games as most of his compatriots. Unfortunately, that scoring touch seems to have dried up: Nino has managed just one goal and four points through 12 postseason contests and, if the ‘Canes are to put up a fight against Tuukka Rask and his Bruins, they’ll need all the scoring they can get.
Patrice Bergeron: Central to the success of Boston’s top power play unit is the play of Bergeron. Likely the best all-around player still active in the NHL’s final four, Bergeron leads the league with five power play goals, and while that may seem easy when sharing the ice with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Torey Krug, it’s just as likely that their success is due to sharing the ice with him.
Zdeno Chara played a plurality of his even strength minutes during Game 1 with Connor Clifton, and struggled to limit the chances of the Jordan Staal line. With the last change, how will Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy change Chara’s assignments when McAvoy is back beside him? The pair alternated primary responsibilities between facing Boone Jenner and Matt Duchene in Round 2, does Sebastian Aho provide too much of a speed mismatch for the 42-year old Chara, or will Cassidy try his veteran against Carolina’s best?