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Fluto Shinzawa

Blues-Sharks conference final could get pretty vicious

David Backes (left) and the Blues open the Western Conference finals vs. Martin Jones and the Sharks on Sunday.AP

Joe Thornton already looks like he could use a cup of soup. If the Sharks win one more round, Thornton’s beard will be long enough to house Robby Fabbri, the 180-pound St. Louis rookie.

The Blues, however, will do everything possible to send Thornton reaching for his razor a round early.

The Sharks and Blues are set up for a titanic matchup of speed and strength. There will be a run on ice bags after each game, assuming they play with their expected ferocity.

Viewers might even get headaches through the screen from watching their viciousness.

Buckle up.

How the Sharks got here: In Game 7 of the second round, San Jose made quick work by overwhelming the hapless Predators early and often. They pumped two pucks past Pekka Rinne in the first period. They chased the starter in the third after two more strikes. The Sharks transformed Roman Josi and Shea Weber, Nashville’s first-pairing defensemen, into turnstiles. It was an impressive, elevated performance of pace, physicality, and a refusal to lose.

How the Blues got here: The Blues played to a laugh track in their Game 7 against Dallas, lighting up Kari Lehtonen with three first-period goals. Lehtonen’s disappearance helped the Blues advance to the Western Conference final. But St. Louis was the better team, from its goaltending to defense to heavy up-front play. Brian Elliott was the Blues’ most important player. That will have to continue against San Jose.


The matchup: St. Louis will train Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester against the Sharks’ top line of Thornton, Tomas Hertl, and Joe Pavelski. Meanwhile, Paul Martin and Brent Burns will be asked to take on Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera, and Vladimir Tarasenko. Thornton’s line likes to handle the puck down low and wait for plays to open up. In comparison, St. Louis’s first line prefers the quick-strike approach, usually ending with the puck on Tarasenko’s stick. Both teams are humming on the power play, so they’ll have to practice discipline to make life easier on Elliott and Martin Jones.


San Jose player to watch: Pavelski leads the playoffs with nine goals through two rounds. Pavelski can score in many ways – down low, off the rush, with one-timers from the outside. All Pavelski has to do is get open. Thornton will get him the puck.

St. Louis player to watch: Pietrangelo leads all remaining postseason players in ice time, averaging 29 minutes 41 seconds per game. The Blues have needed him on every shift. Pietrangelo has made it look effortless to perform in every situation. Pietrangelo was picked two slots after Drew Doughty in 2008. Doughty’s been the slam-dunk choice as the better defenseman. Until now.

Ex-Bruins update: Thornton looks like he could play for another three years. The 36-year-old has been a down-low monster. Jones (2.16 GAA, .918 save percentage) has been good in net, ending the second round with a 20-save shutout against Nashville.

Prediction: St. Louis in six.

Follow Fluto Shinzawa on Twitter at @GlobeFluto.