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Sharks, Blues take Similar Paths to Conference Final

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Both Teams Eliminated Arch Nemesis in First Round, Faced Game 7 in Second Round

NHL

Last night, the San Jose Sharks punched their ticket to the Western Conference Final with a convincing 5-0 thumping over the Nashville Predators in Game 7 of their second round series.

The previous night, the St. Louis Blues had a similar result, demolishing the Dallas Stars 6-1 in Game 7 of that second round series to reach the third round.

It’s the first time in a while that both teams have gone this far in the postseason. The Sharks hadn’t gone this far since 2011 and the Blues since 2001. But now, they will face each other to see who will represent the West in the Stanley Cup Final.

That both teams have reached this far is a bit surprising, but at the same time it’s not. The similarities between them, though, is pretty interesting.

The reason some people may think that it’s surprising that San Jose and St. Louis are in the Conference Final is because of their recent playoff history.

The last few seasons, both the Sharks and Blues have had pretty outstanding regular seasons (except for San Jose last season when they missed the playoffs). However, that never translated into postseason success.

St. Louis had been eliminated in the first round each of the last three springs, twice after holding a 2-0 series lead (2013 & 2014).

After reaching the Conference Final in 2010 and 2011, the Sharks had gone as far as the second round only once prior to this year (2013). And at the beginning of this playoff year, there were quite a few people that saw that trend of playoff disappointment continuing for both teams.

The Blues were pitted against the defending Stanley Cup champion, and hated division rival, Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. Chicago had been one of the two teams that had come back from down 0-2 in the series to knock out St. Louis in the first round in recent springs.

The Blackhawks had also been known to elevate their game when it mattered most, causing many to think they would do the same in this series. And boy was it a back-and-forth series.

Both teams gave the other its best shot, and eventually it would be the Blues who would come out on top with a 3-2 win in Game 7. Ironically, it was a former Blackhawk, Troy Brouwer, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 to help St. Louis reach the second round.

San Jose face an opponent with a similar pedigree to Chicago’s in the first round in the Los Angeles Kings.

The last time the Kings and Sharks met in the playoffs, Los Angeles came back from down 0-3 to take their 2014 first round series in seven games. This year, however, things were much different.

Despite many expecting the Kings to “flip the switch” once the postseason started, it was San Jose who took their game up to another level, only needing five games to eliminate Los Angeles.

After exorcising some demons in the first round, the Sharks and Blues then faced stiff tests in the second round.

St. Louis battled the top-seeded Stars in the second round. Despite not having one of their top scorers, Tyler Seguin, Dallas still had the ability to muster plenty of offense with Jamie Benn, Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, and company.

However, the Blues did a good job defensively on the Stars, holding them to 13 goals in the entire series. Dallas, though, did gut out three one-goal victories in taking the series the distance. But it was St. Louis’ offense that stole the show.

The Blues scored 25 goals in the seven-game series, 20 of those coming in their four wins. That offensive outburst was a big reason they reached the third round for the first time in 15 years.

San Jose, meanwhile, had to deal with a pesky Predators team.

The Sharks took a 2-0 series lead after holding down home ice in the first two games of the series. There were people probably declaring that series over at that point, considering San Jose had the best road record in the NHL and had won all three road games against the Kings in the first round.

However, the Predators proved they could hold serve on their home ice, tying the series up with wins in games 3 and 4, highlighted by triple overtime win in Game 4.

The Sharks, though, would take advantage of home in the two games that mattered most, games 5 and 7. San Jose outscored Nashville 10-1 in the last two games at the “Shark Tank” to return to the Conference Final for the first time in five years.

Now, both teams will go head-to-head to see who will represent the West in the battle for the Stanley Cup. Regardless who gets there, it will be a long time coming for either fan base.

The Blues entered the league before the start of the 1967-68 season. The team had success right away, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in each of their first three years of existence. However, they haven’t been back since that third year (1970).

The Sharks joined the NHL in the 1991-92 season, but have never reached the Final in their history. In fact, they are the only of the three California teams to not reach the Final.

What we can say about the series is hang on to your seat belts because it will be an intense one. Up to this point, both teams seem to be mirror images of each. We’ll see who cracks when the series ends.