Sharks vs. Blues: What to watch in NHL playoffs' Western Conference final


SAN JOSE -- The Sharks’ Stanley Cup playoff road, up to this point, hasn't been easy. But they staved off elimination yet again Wednesday night with a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, and now advance to the Western Conference final to meet the St. Louis Blues.

Not surprisingly, the team hasn’t quite come down from the high of defeating the Avs. The Sharks haven’t necessarily thought that far ahead -- other than knowing that, as defenseman Erik Karlsson said, they are “up to the task” of playing a tough Blues team. 

But that doesn’t mean we can’t take a first look at what’s in store for them when the next round gets underway.

Here are a few things to look at ahead of the Western Conference final, which opens Saturday night at SAP Center.

No rest for the wicked 

The Sharks and Avalanche entered their second-round series on very different pages rest-wise. Colorado had been resting and practicing for nearly a week after making quick work of the Calgary Flames, while San Jose still was reeling from a long, tough seven-game bout with the Vegas Golden Knights. Things will be much more level heading into the final, with both teams having gone seven games in their previous series.

That being said, the Sharks will have the advantage of starting the series in their home barn and won’t have to travel immediately following their series against the Avs. Plus, given the intense nature of Game 7, the Sharks can benefit from getting to sleep in their own beds.

Having a 6-2-0 record on home ice thus far through the playoffs and a loud home crowd behind them doesn't hurt, either.

Tons of grit 

The Sharks are coming off a series against a very fast Avs team. The Blues, on the other hand, will be more a physical matchup, which carries both positives and negatives for San Jose. 

While the Sharks tend to thrive when they play a more physical game, they’re also entering the third round of these playoffs with many bumps and bruises and not a lot of rest. Heck, Joe Pavelski just returned from a head injury. How effectively the Sharks pivot to playing a heavier game against this tough Blues squad without wearing themselves down will be a determining factor of their success. 

Between the pipes

Goaltending has been a huge focus through the first two rounds, and that will continue as Martin Jones squares off against Jordan Binnington -- a playoff rookie who has a bit in common with San Jose’s starting netminder.

One similarity is their disposition. As opposed to some more emotional netminders like San Jose has faced thus far, Binnington has that same cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor that Jones has played with throughout this postseason. Both goaltenders also enter the final with eight wins apiece, and are coming off major Game 7 victories.

Jones ended San Jose’s final game against Colorado with a couple of huge saves that kept the Avs from tying it up and sending it into overtime. His confidence has skyrocketed as the playoffs have continued, and he'll be a key factor again for the Sharks, with a chance to advance to a Stanley Cup Final on the line.

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