Remember, besides Predators/Red Wings we have a host of other fantastic playoff series starting. We'll preview each one, provide the OTF predictions, and ask for your vote as well!
The St. Louis Blues took over the Central Division this season and came close to posting the best record in the league, thanks to a new direction found under head coach Ken Hitchcock, who replaced David Payne after just 13 games. Meanwhile, San Jose's season took an almost diametrically opposed sequence, starting off very strong but ending with a desperate chase just to qualify for the playoffs.
Follow after the jump for our look at this series...
St. Louis Blues
Since bringing Ken Hitchcock aboard, the Blues went 43-15-11, mostly credited to a structured defensive scheme which ended up making both their goaltenders put up absurd numbers. The reality is that while Halak and Elliott certainly played well, when rebounds were coughed up the Blues usually had superior numbers in the area to sweep trouble away, and move the play up ice through a well-supported breakout.
While, much like the Predators, St. Louis relies on a "scoring by committee" approach, Brad at St. Louis GameTime says that one guy in particular will need to step up for the Blues to succeed:
So much of the offense, especially the power play, is funneled through No. 10. When he's crisp and decisive, he's deadly with the puck. When he holds it too long and looks like he's waiting for the play to develop, the whole thing bogs down like it did last Friday against the Coyotes. In his defense, if no one is moving without the puck, this is a moot point. Either way, McDonald has to make faster decisions and raise his level of play or the guys around him have to do it to help him. Otherwise, that power play is going to look like two monkeys humping a football. Lots of sound and noise signifying nothing.
#10 / Center / St. Louis Blues
Aug 25, 1977
|2011 - Andy McDonald||25||10||12||22||+4||2||3||0||2||64||15.6|
McDonald lost most of the season due to injury, but is a dynamic offensive force and gives St. Louis remarkable depth up front that San Jose will be challenged to handle.
The Sharks were a pre-season favorite to win the Pacific Division and be a dangerous playoff team, and for a couple of months, they lived up to that billing. Starting in February, however, the team went into a tailspin, including a 4-11-3 stretch which dropped them all the way out of playoff position.
Even though they made the playoffs, you have to wonder if the core of this team still has enough left to make a push for a Cup. Joe Thornton, for example, put up his lowest goal-scoring totals since the 1998-99 season:
#19 / Center / San Jose Sharks
Jul 02, 1979
|2011 - Joe Thornton||82||18||59||77||+17||31||4||0||2||156||11.5|
That said, the guys at Fear The Fin are relying on that top line to carry the day against St. Louis:
For all the Blues (deservedly) vaunted forward depth, they just don't have the horses at the top of the lineup that San Jose does. Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau are all-world players who push the play in the right direction against opposing team's top lines every single night they hit the ice.
This is the one area where the Sharks have the distinct advantage over St. Louis, and to win this series, they'll need to take full advantage of it.
So what do you think, can the big names at the top of San Jose's depth chart triumph over the chain-gang approach in St. Louis?
And now, the predictions...
Other than it being merely a hunch, I have no reason to believe this - but I think the Sharks, much like the Capitals, are better than their record suggests. If Antti Niemi isn't a total sieve, then San Jose can skate with the Blues, and hold the advantage in top end talent, which sometimes is just enough. Besides, we all remember the last time Ken Hitchcock coached a Central Division team in the playoffs... Sharks in 7.
I think at the beginning of the season a lot of people figured the seeding would be swapped for this one, but it should still be a great series. Both teams are built the same way - big, bruising forwards and solid goaltending - and it should be a defensive affair. First to two goals wins? Blues in 6.
This is the only sweep I've predicted for the first round. Jaro Halak and Brian Elliott have played lights-out all year long, and the Blues' defense and forwards are deceptively, sneakily good. Ken Hitchcock has something to prove after spending years in Columbus, and the way he has turned this Blues team around is only part of that statement. Blues in 4.
San Jose's roller coaster season will come to a sudden stop against a disciplined, talented St. Louis team. Blues in 5.