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Kostya Kennedy's Breakdown
St. Louis    San Jose 
The probable absence of right wing Pavol Demitra, sidelined by a head injury, weakens an already modest core of forwards. Defenseman Al MacInnis' slap shot remains one of the most dangerous weapons in the game, and the Blues often run their offense around it.  OFFENSE

The Edge:
  None  

There's some good talent here, especially with the resurgence of powerful right wing Owen Nolan (44 goals), who can intimidate when he's on his game. The Blues will try to crowd in on center Vincent Damphousse (San Jose's top playmaker), who can be stopped. 

In MacInnis and Chris Pronger, the Blues have two of the top five impact defensemen in the game. Their forwards -- guys like right wing Lubos Bartecko and rookie center Jochen Hecht -- are one of the most underrated defensive groups in the league.  DEFENSE

The Edge:
  

Rookie Brad Stuart has played very well sooner than most people expected, and the core of veterans such as Marcus Ragnarsson and Mike Rathje makes San Jose solid on the blue line. 

Roman Turek is a Vezina candidate. Acquired from the Dallas Stars during the offseason, he has made more impact than any other player acquisition in the league. He has no playoff experience.  IN GOAL

The Edge:
  

The Sharks put tremendous faith in Steve Shields when they traded away veteran netminder Mike Vernon earlier this season. In Shields' first prolonged experience as a starter he's been generally good but inconsistent. 

Expect to see MacInnis teeing it up from the point, and Pronger, too. Without Demitra, St. Louis will struggle to be as effective as they were in the regular season (17.6%).  PP

The Edge:
  None  

Nolan, who sometimes plays as big as two players, can take over on the man advantage. Jeff Friesen's speed is also an important weapon. 

One of the league's best. The disciplined group killed off 88% of power plays in the regular season through the work of solid blue-collar players such as Mike Eastwood.   PK

The Edge:
   

Had they been a bit more effective in this area (83.6%), San Jose would have locked up the seventh or even the sixth seed. They'll try to knock the puck away before the Blues get set up. 

Joel Quenneville will almost certainly win the Jack Adams Award. He's soft-spoken and even-keeled, just like his team.  COACH

The Edge:
   

Darryl Sutter can be extremely demanding. He has worked wonders for Nolan, but has cowed some of the others. 

This is the first season people have projected the Blues into the ranks of Cup contenders. How will they weather that external pressure?  INTANGIBLES

The Edge:
   

The Sharks have the ability to overtake the Blues physically. Will they attempt to do that at the expense of being penalized? 

The return of Demitra and, to a lesser extent, right wing Scott Young (out at least one game with a dislocated shoulder).   X-FACTOR

The Edge:
   

They had a league-high 16 short-handed goals this year. A few of those could swing the momentum in what will almost certainly be a series full of close games. 
Kennedy's Prediction: San Jose in 7
 


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