Being a life long San Jose Sharks fan I have seen more playoff hockey than any other fan of another team in the last 14 years with perhaps the exception of a Detroit Red Wings fan.
Watching the St. Louis Blues dismantle my beloved Sharks was astonishing after I had predicted the Blues would fall in 6 games due to inexperience to a San Jose team who advanced to the Western Conference Finals the last 2 years.
St. Louis’ defense in one word is “unreal”. They poke check, forecheck, and block shots better than any team I have ever seen in all the years I have watched hockey.
The Blues never turn over the puck, force turnovers and play the best neutral zone defense in the league. Their goal-tending is pretty good as well with Brian Elliot leading the way.
This plus they never take dumb penalties and are disciplined as if they have been to the playoffs numerous times.
It is easy to see why they gave up a NHL record low of 165 goals during the season. San Jose and their highly experienced group of forwards played miserably against the Blues and their record setting defense.
San Jose in their own right was very solid defensively themselves but St. Louis does everything right on on that end which makes it impossible to get things going against them offensively over a course of a series.
This year with the NBC Sports Network televising every playoff game I was able to watch a majority of the other series’ across the league.
The other series’ were no where near the defensive tenacity of the Sharks-Blues series. Both teams fought tooth and nail for every inch. While you see Pittsburgh-Philadelphia play zero defense and give up goals at a rampant rate.
In the next round the Blues are running into the Los Angeles Kings who are coming off a shocking 4-1 series win over the President’s Trophy Winner Vancouver Canucks.
The Kings like the Blues play a very defensive style of hockey and have a great penalty kill. Vancouver was no slouch on defense either but got worn down by the Kings style of play. Daniel Sedin being hurt until game 4 was a big blow to the Canucks as well.
In game 5, you could easily see the Canucks got tired and LA was getting opportunities near the net at a rate that astonished me after watching how hard it was to see the Sharks get quality shots off against the Blues.
During the regular season the Sharks owned the Kings winning 4 out 6 match-ups including 2 back to back at the end of the season in overtime.
Against the Kings, the Sharks were able to move the puck and score on possible Vezina winner Jonathan Quick. The Kings who were number two in the NHL in goals allowed behind St. Louis could not handle the Sharks front six at all while the Blues handled them with ease.
Granted, the Kings did beat the Blues 3-1 during the season but 2 of those games were early in the season. Ken Hitchcock took over on November 7th, 2011 and had only 2 weeks before facing the Kings on November 22nd in the 2nd game of their season series.
The Blues will sweep the Kings 4-0 and an then smash on Nashville/Phoenix in the next round to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
If San Jose could not score with their experienced group of forwards on St. Louis what makes anyone think the Kings will when LA was 29th in the league in goals for?
Especially when LA could not beat San Jose the last 2 games of the season with both teams desperate trying to win the Pacific and get into the playoffs?
Ken Hitchcock deserves NHL coach of the year for the job he has done without a training camp with the Blues. He has them playing Stanley Cup Championship defense at the right time.
Defeating an experienced team like San Jose who was red hot entering the playoffs bodes well going forward and gives his young team the confidence to beat anyone.
It makes me wish San Jose had tanked the last game of the season to LA so that the Sharks could have gotten a Daniel Sedin less Vancouver team instead of the defensive juggernaut known as the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues will take it all this year because defense even in hockey wins titles and their group of guys is playing at a record setting level that no one has ever witnessed.
They will handle LA, then Phoenix/Nashville, and pick any team remaining in the East to win their first Stanley Cup title in team history.