The Blues are set up at home for the next two games in their clash with San Jose in the Western Conference finals.
I say the Blues are set up because they went to San Jose and got a win in Game 2 to lock this best-of-seven series at 1-1.
Or, to rely on a time-honored cliche: the Blues have seized home-ice advantage.
Maybe as a technicality, yes.
As a reality, no.
The Blues aren’t trustworthy at home this postseason. The Blues lost two games to Winnipeg at Enterprise Center during the first round including a 6-3 mess in Game 3. They lost two more home games to Dallas in the second round including Game 5.
The Blues’ 2-1 defeat in Game 5 vs. Dallas was especially dangerous because it gave the Stars a 3-2 series lead and an opportunity to eliminate St. Louis in Game 6. To the Blues’ credit they rallied to win the final two games, including the two-overtime thriller and chiller in Game 7 at home.
With a record of 6-2 away from St. Louis the Blues have been phenomenal on the road during the playoffs. And that’s provided a tremendous advantage in the ebb and flow of a long series. It’s easy to assume the Blues will handle emergencies by going out of town for another road win.
Perhaps their road dominance will last. But wouldn’t this entire tug-o-war be easier if the Blues established authority at Enterprise Center?
The Note is 3-4 at home this postseason. The Blues have been outscored 12-9 in 5-on-5 play, 16-10 at even strength and 19-15 overall in their first seven home games of the Stanley Cup chase.
When I say the Blues are set up for success by having the next two games at Enterprise, it’s true. The problem is, a nice series setup will be wasted if the Blues settle in at home — or settle for a split of the next two games.
Again, I realize the Blues have been incredibly effective on the road through the first two rounds, and into the third. But keep this in mind about San Jose: the Sharks are excellent at home.
During the regular season San Jose ranked fourth overall and second in the conference in home winning percentage. In the postseason the Sharks are 7-3 at home — the most home wins by a team in this tournament. Yes, even better than Boston, which is 6-3 at home so far.
Oddly, the Sharks’ three home losses have come in Game 2 of their series against Vegas, Colorado and St. Louis. But in the first two rounds, that was it. After taking Game 2 on road at San Jose, Vegas and Colorado never got another win in the Shark Tank.
Can the Blues win for a second time at San Jose? Sure, it’s entirely possible. But the Sharks are tougher at home than Winnipeg and Dallas. The Blues were able to win late-series games at Winnipeg (Game 5) and Dallas (Game 6.) But based on their home play this season, the Sharks figure to present a more stubborn challenge.
The Sharks require no extra motivation going into Game 3. First, the NHL season is down to the final four teams. The battle for the Cup is getting closer to its conclusion. There’s no time for fooling around. Second, the Sharks have a strong appetite for winning after losing Game 2.
And third: you’d better believe that the Sharks noticed the Blues’ inconsistent play at home during the first two rounds.
“That’s going to be easy to kind muster up internally,” San Jose forward Evander Kane told the media that cover the Sharks. “We’re tied 1-1 going into their building for two games, so they’re going home where they’re comfortable. The pressure’s on them, but we’ve got to be desperate to get Game 3.”
I’d like to believe that the Blues are just as desperate for a win … and will match (if not exceed) the Sharks’ determination. But in their four postseason home-ice losses the Blues were slow starters.
Game 3, vs. Winnipeg: trailed 3-1 after two periods, got down by four goals (5-1) and lost 6-3.
Game 4, vs. Winnipeg: Held scoreless for two periods, got a power play goal from Vlad Tarasenko early in the third period, failed to score the rest of the way, lost 2-1 in overtime.
Game 2, vs. Dallas: Blues trailed 3-1 after the first period, lost 4-2.
Game 5, vs. Dallas: Blues trailed 1-0 after the first period, fell behind 2-0, lost 2-1.
As I mentioned in a column written here on Tuesday, San Jose hasn’t been a good road team during the playoffs so far, losing four of six games and getting outscored 21-12.
That said, the Sharks avoided first-round elimination with an overtime road win in Game 6 at Vegas. And with their second-round series tied 1-1 after two games in San Jose (sound familiar???), the Sharks ventured into Colorado and made amends with a big victory in Game 3.
This is an episode in recent history, and the teams have changed … but the Blues went 1-2 at home against San Jose in the 2016 Western Conference finals. And that can’t happen again. The Blues can’t let the Sharks come into St. Louis for a feeding.
This time the Blues must wrestle firm control of this series away from San Jose by turning Enterprise Center into a true home-rink advantage. The Blues must pull the Sharks into the boat and take a 3-1 series lead instead of releasing the Sharks to swim back to San Jose with a 2-2 series deadlock or … yikes … a 3-1 series lead.
Thanks for reading …