Blues make playoffs again but that's where their season ends
Posted: Thursday April 8, 2004 2:53PM; Updated: Thursday April 8, 2004 7:51PM
No. 2San Jose vs. No. 7St. Louis
After a surprisingly successful season, the well-coached Sharks have a dangerous first-round opponent that will require the contributions of all of San Jose's many role players. On the Blues' side of the ledger, St. Louis' stars up front need to come out in force.
The Blues have star power here: excellent power forward Keith Tkachuk, sniper Pavol Demitra and sweet-passing center Doug Weight. The Sharks are underrated but fundamentally sound. Nils Ekman and center Patrick Marleau are superb two-way players. Look for the Blues' Dallas Drake to get into a few scrapes and score a big goal or two.
The Sharks bunch can snarl. Brad Stuart, 24, is coming off his best all-around season, while Kyle McLaren, Scott Hannan and Mike Rathje play with a serious edge. The Blues rely on super-stud Chris Pronger to log plenty of minutes, cover lots of ice and create a multitude of big plays.
The Blues' Chris Osgood played his best hockey late in the year, winning the league's defensive player of the month honor in March after compiling an 8-3-2 mark. He's won two Cups (with Detroit) and is excellent when play is around the net. However, he's weak on shots from the outside, and, on occasion, gives up soft goals at inopportune times. San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov is athletic and consistent. This season was his best since being named the 2001-02 rookie of the year.
The St. Louis foursome of Weight, Tkachuk, Demitra and Pronger leads an outstanding power play that can also jump on opponents quickly. For the Sharks, who get nice power play production from veteran forward Vincent Damphousse, the penalty kill, which ranked seventh in the league this year, is a source of pride.
Known as a great motivator -- which he is -- the Sharks' Ron Wilson is also exceptionally detail-oriented, highly committed and creative with his game plans. In short, he's one of the best coaches in the game and is a big reason a team with middling talent finished second in the West. The Blues' Mike Kitchen took over for Joel Quenneville in February after 15 years as an NHL assistant and guided the club a 10-5-4 record down the stretch.
The Shark Tank in San Jose will get very, very loud, which isn't good news for a St. Louis team that struggles on the road. Don't be surprised if the Sharks are unbeatable at home.
The Sharks are an ego-free team thirsty to make a run in these playoffs. St. Louis may pile-up some goals in a game or two but it won't be enough. Sharks in six.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Kostya Kennedy takes sides each week at SI.com.