SAN JOSE, CALIF. – One of the playoff-success-challenged franchises in St. Louis and San Jose will play for the Stanley Cup this season.
The two teams that have enjoyed loads of regular-season success followed by annual playoff disappointment will meet in the Western Conference final starting Sunday in St. Louis, with the winner advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Blues are looking to make the final for the first time since 1970 and win it all for the first time ever. The Sharks have never even played for the title since joining the NHL in 1991-92.
Each of the 56 previous playoff appearances for the two teams have ended with a loss — often a crushing one.
“I don’t try and live in the past for this franchise or for the San Jose franchise,” Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong said. “I don’t think any of the young players on San Jose care about what happened five, six years ago for them, and I know Troy Brouwer and [Kyle] Brodziak and these guys don’t care what happened here two years ago or in ’01-02. This is our team, this is their team, they’re going to chart their own destiny.”
The Blues have made the playoffs 40 times in their 48-year history — more than any team outside the Original Six — but they have yet to win it all, while much younger franchises Tampa Bay, Carolina and Anaheim have won the Cup.
The message from coach Ken Hitchcock to the Blues players is time-honored: Keep it simple, get the puck to the open man, avoid heroics.
“One-on-one hockey is for November and February,” Hitchcock said Saturday. “Not now.”
The Sharks are in the postseason for the 18th time and despite having the second-most regular-season wins in the NHL since the start of the 2003-04 season, they have never made it past the conference final. In three trips to this round, San Jose has three wins and 12 losses.
“These opportunities don’t come along every year,” forward Patrick Marleau said. “We want to win a Cup. We haven’t done that yet. There’s a lot of work left.”
A year after losing a seven-game series in the second round to rival Los Angeles, the Sharks broke out to a 3-0 series lead over the Kings in the first round in 2014. San Jose then lost four straight games to become the fourth NHL team ever to blow a 3-0 series lead. The pain from that defeat lasted, and the Sharks didn’t completely recover until this season, missing the playoffs entirely last year.
In both 2013 and 2014, the Blues jumped to 2-0 series leads in the first round over powerhouses Los Angeles and Chicago. Just when it looked like St. Louis was ready for a long run, the Blues followed with four straight losses each series, raising questions about their playoff toughness.
Six of the eight losses were one-goal games, with three defeats coming in overtime.