Will St. Louis hockey fans, most who have never seen their team play in the Stanley Cup Finals, get their wish? The Blues haven’t been in the finals since 1970. The Blues are one win away and on home ice. The Blues are only 4-5 in St. Louis so far in the playoffs.
The Blues, led by Jaden Schwartz’s hat trick, crushed the Sharks in San Jose Sunday 5-0. Schwartz leads the Blues with 12 goals in the playoffs, one more than he had all of the regular season. His next goal will set the Blues’ single-season playoff record.
Rookie netminder Jordan Binnington has been a difference-maker for the Blues since his call-up a little over halfway through the season. He has allowed only one goal in the last two games against one of the best offenses in the game. If Binnington’s performance continues, the Blues will be headed to Boston for their next game. The Blues are -160 favorites, and the over/under is 5.5 (-120).
The Sharks looked to be in control of the series after a controversial win in Game 3. The Sharks won after officials missed an obvious hand pass that set up the overtime winner. Since then, it has been all St. Louis. The Sharks have been hammered by the injury bug. Joe Pavelski, who sustained a head injury earlier in the playoffs, missed the end of Game 5 after another shot to the head. Thomas Hertl, Erik Karlsson and Pavelski all left Game 5 with injuries. Karlsson hasn’t been himself since early in Game 4. His groin injury, which he has fought all season, reappeared in Game 4. If the trio, or even two of the three, can’t skate tonight, the Sharks will definitely be behind the 8-ball.
Look for Brent Burns and Logan Couture to play big minutes tonight with the injuries. Couture leads the Sharks in goals (14) and points (20). He has been quiet the last two games, putting up a -3 and no points. Burns has only two points in the series. If the Sharks want to go back home for Game 7, they will need both players to put up big nights.
The Blues seemed to rally around the Game 3 controversy and have been the much better team since. The Blues’ fourth line has been a catalyst. Oskar Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev, and Alexander Steen have started the last two games and also contributed the opening goals. Sundqvist opened the scoring in Game 5, while Barbashev had the opener in Game 4.
The Blues’ depth has been the difference in the series. With all the injuries to the Sharks, this will be an even bigger factor tonight. If the Blues can get an early goal and put the pressure on the Sharks’ blueliners, this game could get ugly early. Even if Karlsson plays, he hasn’t been an effective puck mover, and the Sharks have struggled to get up the ice. Vlasic and Burns will be looking at 30-minute nights for the Sharks, and if the Blues can apply pressure, it will pay dividends late in the game.
Momentum, injuries, home-ice, everything seems to be pointing Blues. Even if Hertl, Pavelski, and Karlsson play, they aren’t anywhere near 100%. The Blues will roll four lines and wear the Sharks down. If the Blues get another early goal, this could be a blowout early, and San Jose will have to push, and they just don’t have the guns to do it. Binnington and the Blues will win Game 6 and head to Boston for their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1970. We like the Blues -160.