Round 1 - what are they saying: is there hope?
Long time no see, huh, my bourgeoisie friends..
With Sharks' post season starting later today, it's time for your favorite Russian to put together what became a tradition at FTF this time of the year - a rundown of what various hockey writers and "experts" are saying about the Sharks and their first round chances.
Let's get right into it, and if you're patient enough and because you missed me, I'm leaving my own prediction for the series at the very end.
Noting the greatest strength Blues have - their stingy defense, The Hockey News mentioned Sharks' strength in the forward depth and power play. However, that's not enough, as these writers believe the Sharks are a two-lines team:
When the big guns aren't blazing, the Sharks are usually dead in the water. Joe Thornton doesn't put up triple digits anymore and Marleau's points pace has also fallen in recent years. A lack of scoring in the bottom six essentially makes San Jose a two-line team.
Dead in the water.. How many times this phrase have been used in Sharks articles before? 283,000, if we are to believe Larry Page and Sergey Brin. So creative. Still, THN's pick is the Blues in five:
The Blues swept the season series 4-0, holding the Sharks to just three goals. Joe Thornton and company should struggle to get past Alex Pietrangelo and a Blues ‘D' that simply doesn't let pucks reach the net. The Blues' home dominance is just one more reason to pick them.
Fine. Moving on.
The old friend of the Sharks Pierre LeBrun of ESPN has one of the best previews of the series one can find online, which is not unusual for him. Not only it is detailed, but he is one of the few writers out there who believes the Sharks have a chance in this one. In fact, Pierre thinks despite the regular season sweep, Blues drew the worst opponent they could:
Really, if there's a giant killer in the making in these Stanley Cup playoffs, it might indeed be the Sharks, whose bizarre and disappointing regular season can now be a flip of the calendar, a distant thought, as they begin the postseason with a fresh start and a loaded squad -- and without the usual pressure of having to live up to a high seed.
After going over the usual lines for this series about Blues' defense and goaltending, Pierre is still not convinced this is going to be enough to knock out the experienced Акулы and he thinks San Jose is in it to win it:
Well, I picked the Sharks to win the Cup in September (as always), so it seems somewhat cowardly for me to change my mind eight months later. They certainly have not given me much reason for most of this season to believe they'd take the next step from back-to-back conference finals to Stanley Cup finals berth. Still, this is a playoff-savvy team without the weight of expectation for once. Most of the numbers, and regular-season evidence, point to a Blues series win, but the Sharks have a shot against their younger, less-experienced opponents. This is my first-round upset special. Sharks in 7.
One day Pierre should run for a mayor of San Jose, and we will all happily vote for him.
Kevin Allen of USA today posted his preview of the conference match ups, and he also noted the Sharks have an edge in experience. He's not so positive about San Jose and its chances, however.. (someone needs to introduce him to the orange sauce at La Vic's - maybe he'll like us more) and he picked Blues in six.
Why the Blues should be favored
1. They are relentless, especially at home, where they are 30-6-5.
2. The Blues' two top scorers had 54 points, and yet they get scoring up and down their lineup.
3. David Backes is a bull and a strong defensive forward. You always feel his presence.
Not sure how Backes is a bull and why it matters when we have a real Viking in our midst, but to each their own, as you Yankees say.
Scott Cullen of TSN likes predictions this time of the year. He's taking an interesting stance on what's going to be a big difference in the series - Pietrangelo > Boyle:
Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle has been an elite performer for a long time, but he may be the second-best defenceman in the series, as 22-year-old Blues blueliner Alex Pietrangelo is garnering Norris Trophy consideration after his tremendous all-around season. If Pietrangelo is the best defenceman in the series, that should swing the pendulum towards the Blues.
Oh yeah, he's also picking the Blues in six.
I could go on and on and you'll see that not many give Sharks a chance. Even astrology is not in the Sharks favor. But I'll leave you all on a positive note - two more predictions that should strengthen your spirit before puck drops tonight.
First, from Jon Rosen who writes for Fox Sports West and is optimistic about what's ahead for the team in teal (predicting Sharks in six):
Matt D'Agostini, Alex Steen and Andy McDonald recently returned to St. Louis' lineup after missing large stretches of the season, and their arrival pushes several grinders and role players deeper down in the lineup, or perhaps even up into the press box. While the skill level has been raised, the terrific forechecking and hardworking dynamic instituted by coach Ken Hitchcock have been affected. We're also wary of teams that relied heavily on goaltending tandems going deep into the playoffs. It had been expected that Jaroslav Halak would start Game 1 of a playoff series, though he's 1-2-1 in his past four games, having allowed 13 goals, while Brian Elliott posted back-to-back-to-back shutouts last month before faltering in his two final starts. The Sharks are 9-4 since Martin Havlat's return from a torn hamstring; the speedy forward has five goals and 12 points in his past 12 games. They'll have benefitted from their pseudo-playoff home-and-home series with L.A.
Often overlooked points, but those that may very well matter.
Second, if you're still with me - a prediction from the one and only FTF Comrade.
If you asked me yesterday - and in fact, I wrote to the FTF guys in an email - I'd said Blues in six. They owned the Sharks all season, they played a well oiled team game in all those wins, they are well coached, they have far superior goaltending and they have home ice advantage. Plus, the Sharks have played more mediocre hockey than not since the start of 2012 - so you can see why I was one depressed fella 24 hours ago. I've lowered my expectations for this team, even despite the strong finish.
But then I watched the Day 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
As mighty as the Penguins are (healthy Malkin and Crosby - are you kidding me?), they still let the Flyers overcome a three goal advantage. As scary as Canucks can be at home - Kings didn't care, and upset them in Canada.
The game of hockey is not played on paper or in Microsoft Excel. The outcome of who gets to play in the final is not determined by a computer as in some other sports.
Humans play hockey and humans are unpredictable. I could cite example after example but I'll just mention two numbers that live in our memories forever. 1980 and 1994.
Wait.. Did I just really write that first one? /cries
At any rate, Sharks in seven and it all starts with an upset tonight.