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Western Conference finals preview: St. Louis Blues vs. San Jose Sharks

Western Conference finals preview: St. Louis Blues vs. San Jose Sharks

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We bring you the Redemption Bowl, featuring two clubs that have discarded serious playoff baggage to reach the Western Conference finals. For the St. Louis Blues, it’s their first final-four appearance in 15 years and a chance to reach the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1970. For the San Jose Sharks, it’s actually their fourth trip to the conference finals since 2004 but their first in half a decade — they missed the playoffs last year and two years ago suffered their infamous soul-crushing, first-round loss to the rival Los Angeles Kings after leading the series 3-0. That led to some retooling, but San Jose is still led by veteran stars Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

These two teams overcame a lot of the same challenges to get here, beginning with the first round: the Sharks beating their personal bogeymen in the Kings, the Blues finally beating wholesale jerseys their nightmare-inducing rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. Then, with the realization that they’ve got to wake up and play some hockey while surviving seven-game scares in the second round, the Blues disposed of the high-flying Dallas Stars and the Sharks went the distance to finally shake hands with the pesky Nashville Predators.

And so here they are, the Blues and the Sharks, picked so many times by so many people over the past several years to win the Stanley Cup only to disappoint. Not anymore. Whatever happens, a Cup finals berth at long last awaits for one of these deserving, well-built hockey clubs wholesale sport jerseys.

How they win

San Jose: The Stars’ team speed gave the Blues headaches and, like Dallas, San Jose can wheel. Another big reason the Sharks could prevail is if their lethal power play makes a difference yet again, as it has in two straight series. The opening goal in Game 7 against the Predators was like watching a rerun: Thornton to Marleau to Pavelski in the slot. You know it’s coming but nobody seems to be able to stop it. It just so happens that the aggressive, physical Blues have averaged more than 11 minutes in penalties a game in these playoffs while the Sharks have averaged the fewest penalty minutes of any of the 16 playoff teams. If the Sharks get on the power play more often than the Blues, that could be a major difference-maker.

St. Louis: The Blues’ physical and structured athletic jerseys wholesale game wears down teams over seven games. The Stars looked out of breath by Game 7. All those hits by the Blues are an investment right from Game 1 of a series. And the tactic works. Mind you, it’s what the heavy, physical Kings hoped to do in the first round, and what they found out is that you can’t hit what you can’t catch, the Sharks a step ahead all series long. With veteran head coach Ken Hitchcock leading the way, the Blues’ overall game is also extremely detailed. This is a team that doesn’t make as many mistakes as most teams. That can frustrate the opposition. Their fundamentals are unreal.

How they lose

San Jose: I’ve written about the Sharks’ inexperience in net two rounds in a row, but Martin Jones continues to prove himself. In his first season as a No. 1, Jones went toe-to-toe with the Kings’ Jonathan Quick in the opening round and the Predators’ Pekka Rinne in the second round and fared just fine, thank you. But if the Sharks lose, one reason might be cracks in Jones’ game.

St. Louis: Fatigue. The buy jerseys wholesale Blues have had the max seven games in two straight series, not the optimum recipe for a potential Stanley Cup champion. History suggests that a short series is needed somewhere along the way before getting to a Cup finals. Now, you can point to the 2014 Kings, who played 21 games in the opening three rounds, and rebuff that wisdom. But are those energy levels going to be OK starting Sunday with Game 1 in St. Louis?

Fancy stats

The Sharks had the worst home record of any of the 16 teams that made the playoffs at 18-20-3 and it was a pretty big story before facing the Kings in the first round — to the point where head coach Peter DeBoer got tired of talking about it. After dropping its opening home game of the playoffs to the Kings in Game 3, San Jose has since gone 5-0 at SAP Center, winning a huge one in Game 4 against the Kings to take a commanding 3-1 series lead and then winning all four in the homer series versus Nashville, including an emphatic Game 7 decision. So, no, the Sharks no longer have an issue at home.

Series MVP

San Jose: The Blues did a good job getting to Stars top blue-liner John Klingberg in the last round, but I’m not sure exactly how you neutralize a beast such as Brent Burns. If the Sharks advance to the Stanley Cup finals, the man who can rack up 20 shot attempts on some nights will be one of the major reasons.

St. Louis: Alexander Steen needs to win a Selke Trophy as top defensive forward one day. Look at his defensive work in the opening round against Chicago’s big boys and then soccer jerseys wholesale usa again in the second round versus the stars of the Stars. Steen is a two-way monster who deserves more praise for his immense impact on the Blues’ success. If St. Louis gets to the Cup finals, you better believe Steen will be at the heart of it.

Bottom line

This is a contrast in styles, with the Sharks being a free-flowing team that can motor while the Blues play a structured, disciplined and physical game. Both have depth everywhere. To me, this series gets decided by a hair. Blues in seven.

Playoff MVP candidate Victor Hedman keeps Tampa Bay Lightning rolling

Playoff MVP candidate Victor Hedman keeps Tampa Bay Lightning rolling

TAMPA, Fla. — Now, the Conn Smythe discussion can begin for Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.

If the Lightning hadn’t lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup finals, it’s likely Hedman would have been named postseason MVP last spring. But that didn’t happen. That honor went to the Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith.

But with the way Hedman is playing in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, his performance is worthy of the discussion again.

His two goals helped the Lightning clinch a second consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference finals with a 4-0 victory over the New York Islanders in Game 5 of their second-round series on Sunday at Amalie Arena. In 10 playoff games, Hedman, 25, has four goals and five assists for nine points and is a plus-4. In 26 playoff games last postseason, he had one goal and 13 assists for 14 points and was a plus-11.

“Hedman was a monster in pretty much all of them, which helped us get there,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of last season’s games in Tampa Bay’s Cup run. “You could say that about a bunch of our players. You don’t move on without having your best players be your best players.”

“I thought tonight was pretty indicative of what Victor Hedman has done for us,” Cooper added. “When the big boy’s rolling, we feed off that, and he was a major factor in us winning tonight.”

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who posted his fifth career postseason cheap china wholesale jerseys shutout, expects nothing but great things from Hedman.

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“I’m getting used to it, I guess,” Bishop said with a bright smile. “He’s a great player. He seems to elevate his game at this time of the year — last year and now this year. It’s nice to have him on your side.”

When asked what is the most impressive quality about Hedman, Bishop quickly joked, “His looks.”

Then Bishop added, “He’s just a workhorse. He has the size — and the way he can move and how big he is. He’s really swift. He’s tough to get around. He can skate with anybody, and he’s got some pretty good offensive talent too. And, he is still learning. He’s still really young, and that’s the scary thing. He’s going to get even better the next however many years he plays. wholesale jerseys It’s fun to watch him.”

This will be the third consecutive trip to the conference finals for Lightning forward Brian Boyle, who also played for the New York Rangers on their trip to the finals in 2014. He knows exactly what it takes to win at this level. He shook his head and smiled when he talked about the Hedman’s contributions.

“He is young, but he’s been in this league for a number of years and he puts a lot of responsibility on himself as a leader on the team — and as a person around Tampa. He’s such a mature kid. The way he plays the game,” Boyle said, “is what everyone is talking about now. “We’ve seen it before, and he covers so much ice. He can start a forecheck, starts the rush and he can come back and finish [opponents’] rushes and close them out, then get up ice and do it again.

“You’ve heard [assistant coach Rick Bowness] and Coop talk about how well he can skate, and obviously that’s a huge asset for a big man. The way the kid competes — he does everything for us from the back end and how many minutes he eats up, and if he’s not playing 30, he’s pretty pissed off. It’s a great attitude to have.”

The least amount of time Hedman played in the series against the Islanders was 26:32 in Game 1, the only tilt the Lightning lost. After that, wholesale jerseys cheap he logged 27:35, 30:15, 27:46 and 27:43 in Games 2, 3, 4 and 5, respectively.

“For me, it’s all about playing good defensively and offensively,” Hedman said. “If you score a goal, or how many points you have, it doesn’t really matter as long as you win the game.”

One of many of Hedman’s responsibilities was to limit the offensive production of Islanders’ John Tavares. After the New York captain scored a goal and added an assist in the Islanders’ Game 1 victory, Hedman and Tampa Bay’s defense completely shut down Tavares and held him without a point for the remainder of the series.

Last season, the Blackhawks’ Keith became the first defenseman to win the Conn Smythe since Scott Niedermayer won it with the Anaheim Ducks in 2006-07. Other defensive greats to have won the Conn Smythe include Nicklas Lidstrom (with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002), Scott Stevens (New Jersey Devils in 2000) and Brian Leetch (Rangers in 1994). But this season could be the first time a defenseman has claimed the trophy in consecutive seasons since Serge Savard of the Montreal Canadiens and Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins won it in 1969 and 1970, respectively.

Sure, there’s plenty of hockey remaining in the final two rounds before a team hoists the Stanley Cup, but if his production in the first 10 postseason games is any indication of what’s to come, Hedman has the ability to lead this team to where it wants to go wholesale sport jerseys.

“He’s done it all for us,” Boyle said.

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