So far, I am 50% right in my predictions for the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the San Jose Sharks ousting the St. Louis Blues in six games – and significantly for the reasons why I said they would. I said that the main difference between the two teams were two factors, goaltending and offence.
San Jose goaltender Martin Jones outplayed two far better goaltenders in the early rounds, Los Angeles Kings’ former Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Quick, and steady Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne. No matter who St. Louis put in the net, Brian Elliott or Jake Allen, they were no match for Jones. Two convincing back-to-back shutouts were the back-breaking, demoralizing factors that broke the spirit of St. Louis and sapped their will to win.
And that points to the second reason why St. Louis lost, they have no hot playoff shooters whom San Jose would have had to cool off. St. Louis has Vladimir Tarasenko, and got a modest contribution from Paul Stastny… and nobody else. In contrast San Jose is getting contributions from everybody, particularly Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joel Ward, and even Patrick Marleau. St. Louis may have a better defense on paper but there were too many hot shooters for them to contain.
This is a bitter defeat for St. Louis, who like San Jose have choked so many times in the early rounds and who, like the Sharks thought they were the team of destiny, finally breaking through to the Western Conference Final and ousting long time nemesis Chicago along the way. On the positive side, this defeat should make plain what St. Louis has lacked and continues to lack. They have to get themselves a shut-down goaltender and add hot shooters who consistently come up big in the playoffs.
Like the Islanders and Capitals, this off-season will be a key one for the Blues to determine which direction they will go. They have made significant gains in the playoffs this year but if they want to go farther, they have to add more. The pressure is now on the St. Louis ownership and management to come up with a positive answer.
As for the Sharks, this convincing victory should give them more confidence and strengthen the belief that they are the team of destiny. They will be the underdog in the Stanley Cup Final, whether it is Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay. But if they keep getting the contributions they are getting from Jones and the San Jose offence, maybe a destiny upset might be in the cards.