The St. Louis Blues are truly a sight to behold in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. A team that has had the most injuries to key players throughout the regular season has now managed to win two straight Game 7s against the defending Cup champions (Chicago Blackhawks), and the best team in the Western Conference this year (Dallas Stars). Though much of the postseason rides on maintaining momentum, the Blues will be glad to have a few days of rest before taking on the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final, beginning on Sunday.
Why this Rest is So Important
Even though the Blues have historically played inconsistent hockey after long periods of rest in the playoffs, it may be their saving grace this postseason. They are the only team remaining that has yet to have more than one full day off in between games, even though they did get a nice break to recharge after the first round ended. When playing such a tough, physical game, the player’s muscles deteriorate at an increasing rate as they dig deeper into themselves to fight for every inch across the ice. That’s exactly why it’s so hard to raise the Stanley Cup.
After two absolutely grueling seven-game series against the best in the West, the Note have played more games than anyone else left in the playoffs, and need to let their bodies heal to continue to be successful moving forward. Now with four days of rest ahead, the Blues can focus on getting as close to 100 percent health as is possible at this point of the season. This will allow superstars like Vladimir Tarasenko & the emerging Robby Fabbri the time they need to recharge their batteries and get focused on the second half of the second season. It will allow players to let their minds rest as well, which should lead to smarter plays in the Conference Final, and hopefully beyond.
Though nothing in life is never ‘all good news,’ the downside for the Blues is certainly manageable in this situation. Typically with rest comes a lull in play upon returning to action, but this year will be different in that regard. The Blues will only have one more day of rest than their opponent this year, so both teams should be on a more level playing field than in previous years’ past (when this has occurred). In addition, the Note have been so great at finding their game in clutch moments throughout this year that they are sure to find their rhythm before they’re in too much trouble in this year’s Conference Final.
More Good News
The Sharks may be firing on all cylinders for now, but the Note have a couple of things working to their advantage. The first is obvious: home-ice advantage. Though the Note are actually 3-4 at home in this year’s playoffs, they should rectify that moving forward, especially with an increasingly electric atmosphere around them. They have stumbled on home ice this postseason, but they were great on home ice in Game 7 against Chicago, and could’ve easily seen another victory on home ice in the double-overtime thriller that Patrick Kane ended in Game 5 of the first round. The team will certainly build on these experiences moving forward. Since San Jose is just .500 on the road this postseason (3-3), the Note should be able to truly take advantage of their home ice this series, especially if they figure out their power play at Scottrade Center.
The good news doesn’t stop there either. The Blues have experienced some success against the Sharks in postseasons past (12-11 against them in their playoff history), especially more recently (last time these teams faced off in the playoffs was in 2011-12 where the Note won in 5 games). In addition, the boys in Blue have had great special teams against San Jose this season. Their power play went 2-for-7 (28.6 percent) and their penalty kill was 11-for-13 (84.6 percent) against the Sharks this regular season (three games played). The Blues are also 5-2 on the road this postseason, including their convincing win over Dallas in Game 7 last Wednesday night. With the Sharks playing the heavy-hitting Los Angeles Kings, and the never-say-die Nashville Predators, they should be a little more sore than the Note due to their aging core (and one less day of rest).
This is why the Blues should have the momentum to start the series, and though they may come out of the gates a little slower than fans would ideally like, the Sharks should level the playing field. This should allow the Blues to settle into their game, dictate the pace of play and hopefully get an early series lead before it shifts to San Jose. Sunday night can’t come soon enough for fans, and it’s sure to be an exhilarating battle throughout the Western Conference Final this year.
Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.