The momentum will shift one way or another after tonight’s pivotal Game 3 in San Jose.
Will there be any backlash from the Blues aggressive sendoff at the end of Game 2 on Saturday?
Sharks D-man Justin Braun was violently speed bagged by Roman Polak at the end of the game. Braun is a big sturdy kid at 6’2 and over 200 pounds but he’s far from an opposing presence. He fought once this season with Columbus’s Fedor Tyutin.
Then again Polak isn’t known for dropping the gloves either. He may be a powerful beast but fighting isn’t a big part of his game. He’s usually good for one fight a year.
He did show he’s more than willing if provoked.
Is there a Sharks player fearless enough to open the door on Polak one more time?
The same can be said for Vladimir Sobotka who dealt with Dominic Moore in a similar yet less monstrous manner.
If anything goes down I would anticipate it to happen early in the game.
The Blues demonstrated they have more team toughness than probably given credit for. GM Doug Armstrong accurately describes his club as heavy opposed to punishing. Still they have guys who won’t hesitate to throw with an opposing player.
Since the 2005-2006 season the Blues have routinely finished in the top five in fighting majors. They led the NHL with 78 fights last season but saw that number dip to 42 this year, good for seventh in the NHL. The Blues will gladly take a first place finish in the division over leading the league in scraps.
The Blues fighting major total this season was their fewest since the 2006-2007 season.
Stewy Back in the Lineup…
Chris Stewart returns to the lineup after sitting out the previous game. Further proof the coaching staff was sending a clear message, otherwise he wouldn’t be returning after a 3-0 victory.
The bottom line, the Blues want and need more from Chris Stewart. They want him to be a physical presence who uses his speed to forecheck and dig out pucks. Sure Ken Hitchcock needs energy from his third line, but let’s not fool ourselves, they expect some secondary scoring as well. He’s not out there to just throw his body around.
This guy has been a goal scorer at every level he’s played and there’s no reason to suggest he can’s score goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs. I expect a determined Chris Stewart to show up tonight.
Blues Owning the Face OFF dot…
Coming into this series the Blues would have been happy to break even on face offs. The Blues are winning 53% of their draws against one of the top face off teams in the NHL.
Vladimir Sobotka is a big reason for this as he’s won nearly 62% of his face offs in the first two games. This includes winning all seven in game two.
Patrik Berglund has taken a team leading 29% of the face offs, winning 48.9%
David Backes, Andy McDonald, and Scott Nichol are all above 50%.
San Jose will want to improve in this area especially Joe Pavelski who is getting eaten up winning just 37%.
Power vs. Power
There’s a lot of talk of the David Backes line outplaying Joe Thornton and company. I would tend to agree but personally Thornton hasn’t been the issue. He’s served up about a half dozen passes that either Jaro Halak or Brian Elliott made great saves on. Thornton led San Jose with five shots on goal in Game 2 and will need his line mates to elevate their game.
Specifically Patrick Marleau who has done nothing in this series. Somebody might want to tell him it’s a contract year. That usually grabs his attention.
I know Todd McLellan recently implied the Blues have an advantage because they can use Backes or Berglund against the Thornton line. I would agree Berglund, Steen, and McDonald can handle this matchup defensively but I think San Jose would gladly take their chances if it meant getting away from Backes.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak remains out with a lower body injury and won’t backup Brian Elliott tonight. The injury to Halak isn’t expected to sideline him very long.
The Blues have the luxury of allowing Halak to heal properly with Elliott on the roster. This is a big opportunity for Elliott to further establish himself with the organization. Nothing helps a player more than success in the playoffs. I don’t want to get too carried away but if he plays well and wins games I don’t see him automatically sliding over when Halak is ready to return. Every player looks for an opportunity, they don’t come much bigger than this.
Prospect Ty Rattie returned from a head/neck injury Saturday night for the Portland Winterhawks. His club got hammered by Kamloops but still lead their best of seven series 3-2.
Special playoff edition of Blues Buzz airs tonight from 6-7 on am 590. Former Head Coach Davis Payne joins me live at Johnny Macs on Watson rd.
Don’t forget to go to Johnnymacs.com to nominate your Youth Hockey MVP. Winners appear live on Blues Buzz and receive a $100 gift card plus a personally engraved plaque.
More to come,