Even with the Sharks dropping Game 1 on the road to the Blues on Sunday night, there has to be two happy fan bases in the Western Conference.
San Jose and St. Louis in West final. Blues haven’t made cup final since 1970. Sharks… Never. One fan base will be ecstatic. #nhlplayoffs
— Lee Jones (@LeeJonesCTV) May 13, 2016
In terms of the Conference Finals, the Blues haven’t made a trip there in 15 seasons; the Sharks, five years. Take your pick at which team has the edge in this series. Both have received major contributions from their top offensive players, consistent goaltending and solid defense.
I don’t cover either of these teams regularly, so I don’t plan to say which will win the series because they have more momentum, depth or star-power than the other.
But there’s an interesting trend in recent years that leads me to believe the Blues will win the Western Conference Finals. In each of the past five years, at least one of the team’s in the Stanley Cup Finals was on the brink of elimination in round one, but pulled out a Game 7 victory in that Quarter Final Series. Of the four playoff teams remaining, the Blues are the only group that took seven games to win their first round match up.
St. Louis has history on their side in these Conference Finals.
A Look Back
In 2011, both Stanley Cup Final teams, the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins, were on the brink in round one before pulling out victories in Game 7. Each of those won that match up in overtime, and each also lost only three combined games in the next two rounds, before the Bruins beat the Canucks in seven games in the Cup Finals. (In Vancouver, remnants of that loss are still felt.)
The following year, it was the Eastern Conference-winning New Jersey Devils. They won their first round series thanks to a win in double overtime against the Florida Panther in Game 7. They would soldier on to two more series wins before bowing out to the Western Conference’s eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings in six games.
In 2013, the Bruins had a flare for the dramatic once again in round one, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime in Game 7. They wouldn’t repeat as Stanley Cup winners, however, like they did in 2011. They lost out to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
The Los Angeles Kings would be the eventual winners who were on-the-brink in 2014. With their win in Game 7 against the Sharks in round one, they became only the fourth team in NHL history to win a series after trailing 3-0. The Kings would need seven games for all of their first three series wins, before beating the New York Rangers in five games in the Cup Finals.
Last season, it was the Tampa Bay Lightning who sneaked past round one and ended up advancing to the Cup Finals. They knocked off the Detroit Red Wings in seven games in their first round match up, and would advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 11 years before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
Now, this year, it’s the Blues who have a chance to keep up this interesting string of history. They knocked off the Blackhawks, the playoff equivalent of Goliath in the past few seasons, after a tight win in Game 7, before shooting down the Dallas Stars, the top-seeded Western Conference team, in seven games in round two.
Worn down after round one? Apparently not. Perhaps this is a notion of how closely-matched teams have proven to be in the playoffs more and more in the salary cap era. In fact, these playoffs mark the first time since 2010 that no team has swept a series in the first two playoff rounds.
So the Blues will look to continue what their predecessors in the playoffs have done. Regardless, it’s been an impressive run for both teams in the Western Conference Finals. What makes this series more interesting is the lack of playoff success that both teams have had in their history.
Apart from the Blues’ three Stanley Cup Final appearances in their first three years in the league (all losses), during a time when a rule existed that an expansion team had to qualify for the Cup Finals, they’ve never been past the second round of the playoffs. This season ended a streak of 46 years of not advancing past round two. Yikes.
For the Sharks, meanwhile, they’ve never played in the Stanley Cup Finals in their 24-year history. Twice they’ve advanced to the Western Conference Finals (2010, 2011), but won only one total game in those two series combined.
The Redemption Bowl WCF: Sharks and Blues. Playoffs past be dammed. All that matters is now.
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) May 13, 2016
With the new divisional playoff format (as of 2015), both the Blues and Sharks pulled out hard-fought series wins in their respective first and second round match ups. But with history on their side, it’s the Blues who may be poised to be Western Conference champions. They avoided their big playoff scare in the first round, as at least one Conference-winning team has done in five years before them, now it’s their turn to potentially fuel that into a run to the Cup Finals.