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2012 NHL Playoffs Preview: Blues vs. Sharks

Canvassing the Caucuses: An Election-Style NHL Playoff Preview during Election Season


by Peter Nygaard (follow him on Twitter)

Western Primary

St. Louis Blues (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (7)

[also see: Vancouver Canucks vs. Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks,  & Nashville Predators vs. Detroit Red Wings]

  • The Issues:
  • Pro-Choice — Generally speaking, having a goalie controversy entering the playoffs can be an easy way for a team to punch a one-way ticket to the nearest golf course. But when you have the kind of problems the St. Louis Blues have in net… life is good. The Blues enter the postseason with a timeshare in the crease, split between the NHL’s goals-against average leader, Brian Elliott, and No. 4 in that same category, Jaroslav Halak. Halak, best known for his impressive playoff debut with the Canadiens in 2010, earned the majority of the starts, but Elliott finished the season on a stronger note, posting three straight shutouts to bring his season total to 9. Together, the two ran away with the William M. Jennings Trophy for lowest team GAA. But in the playoffs, presumably only one will get the chance to play. According to reports, Halak will start Game 1, but if he starts to struggle, coach Ken Hitchcock won’t hesitate to pull the plug. Elliott has not been to the playoffs since he also made his debut in 2010, getting shelled in three games against the Penguins before giving way to Pascal Leclaire.
  • Experience (Or lack thereof) — The biggest question St. Louis has faced all year is “Who exactly are these guys?” The Blues have positioned themselves just outside of the playoff bubble in recent years, but few anticipated how quickly they would rise to the Western Conference elite. Hitchcock has managed his share of high-profile campaigns, but he has not yet been able to re-capture the magic he had in Dallas. Perhaps last year’s loss to the Boston Bruins was a wakeup call to the Western Conference that the old guard is no longer going to get it done. The Blues may not have much experience outside of veteran Cup-winners Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner, but they do have a lot of young talent and depth. Combine that with hope, and maybe… just maybe, change is on the horizon.
  • Political Dirt:
  • America is never going to elect the St. Louis Blues without seeing a few birth certificates first. This “T.J. Oshie” doesn’t sound like he was born in America… and how can we be sure that “Andy McDonald” even exists?
  • Campaign Promises:
  • If elected, the Blues promise to never miss the playoffs again. One thing that few remember was lost during the canceled season was St. Louis’ streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances. When the NHL returned to action, the Blues missed the postseason for the first time since Jimmy Carter was in office. After only one appearance in the last six years, this season may mark the beginning of a new streak.

  • The Issues:
  • Flip-Flopping — The Sharks have been considered Cup contenders for the last four years but have heretofore disappointed. This year, they looked like they were going to finish on the outside looking in before making a late push for the playoffs. After years of serving as the disappointing juggernaut in the West, the Sharks are now trying to convince us that they’re plucky underdogs just because it’s a more advantageous position come election time.
  • Joe the Plumber — San Jose boasts a pair of not-so-average Joes in team captain Joe Thornton and rising star Joe Pavelski. Thornton quieted many of his critics in last year’s playoffs, tallying 17 points in 18 games and leading the Sharks to the Western Conference Finals. Conversely, Pavelski established a big game reputation in the 2010 playoffs but was nowhere to be found last year. If the two can put it together in the same year, the Sharks will be a dangerous squad.
  • Political Dirt:
  • The Sharks and Blues met four times during the regular season, and St. Louis won all of them. San Jose couldn’t beat the Blues even once in four tries. How are they going to take four out of seven
  • Campaign Promises:
  • If elected, the Sharks promise to deliver the unpredictability that makes playoff hockey so great. The Sharks have the talent and experience to go all the way. That hasn’t stopped them from tripping over their own skates in the past. This year presents an interesting conundrum. Will a stint as the underdog be what finally puts the scent of blood in the water, or are the Sharks simply slipping?

Vote For: San Jose Sharks in 6

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