NHL Playoffs 2012: Blues/Sharks Series Preview

The Blues, at first glance, seem to have drawn a very advantageous matchup by snagging the San Jose Sharks. The seventh overall seed has had their first season in five not winning the Pacific Division, though still finished with 96 points. To call this year a disappointment for them is a reflection of their high standard of regular-season excellence rather than how many points they got. The Blues might've swept the season series 4-0, and allowed just three goals in those four games. They might've shut them out twice. The Sharks have a reputation for turning it up a bit in the playoffs, though, while the Blues haven't made them in three years. What happened during the regular season is now immaterial.

Goaltending is strong on the Blues side, more than obviously. The Jennings-winning pair of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott alowed the fewest goals per game on average in the NHL -- either player is a comfortable start for Ken Hitchcock. Both started two of four games against the Sharks this season, and both had a shutout as well. The goaltending on the other side of the rink for the Sharks, however, is shakier and less dependable. Thomas Greiss is an ok back-up, but that's who he is. A backup. Stanley Cup winner Antti Niemi is a good, solid goalie, but he's easily rattled. His last couple of games weren't necessarily lessons in goaltending grit. Nonetheless, the Sharks are 8th in the league in goals allowed.

Their penalty kill is atrocious, however. That could be part of the reason why it seems like Niemi isn't as effective as he is as capable of being. They rank 29th out of 30 in the league. The Blues power-play isn't anything amazing, but they've pulled themselves up to 19th overall from being in the basement for most of the season.

If the Sharks' penalty kill is bad, their powerplay is excellent. They're ranked second overall and should give the Blues a go. Limiting bad penalties -- which seems to have been a St. Louis specialty as of late -- is of the utmost importance if the Blues want to be successful. You don't want to leave yourself open to attack, especially by a team with three 30 goal scorers in Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Patrick Marleau. The Blues' defense is strong, but there's no reason to force them and the penalty kill to deal with situations that are perfectly avoidable.

Puck drop is at 7:30 Thursday evening, and will be broadcast outside of the St. Louis and San Jose areas on CNBC. NBC is carrying every playoff game outside of the teams' broadcast areas, so start making that new "NHL PLAYOFFS" favorite channel list.

For full St. Louis Blues coverage, check in with SB Nation St. Louis and St. Louis Game Time. For full San Jose Sharks coverage, check in with SB Nation Bay Area, Fear The Fin and Battle of California.

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