These player matchups are going to rock the Blues-Sharks series

ByPierre LeBrun and Craig Custance ESPN logo
Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Western Conference finals series between theSt. Louis BluesandSan Jose Sharks-- which gets under way with Game 1 on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET in St. Louis -- features a collision of some pretty talented players. Which matchups will be the most compelling? Pierre LeBrun and Craig Custance picked their favorites.

Alexander Steen, C, Blues vs. Joe Thornton, C, Sharks

Most interesting to me will be how Steen is deployed. My guess is he'll see lots of Thornton, Joe Pavelski andTomas Hertl--San Jose's top line. And the matchup with Thornton andPavelski won't just be 5-on-5. Steen is one of the Blues' pre-eminent penalty killers and he'll be among those charged with trying to slow down the Sharks' lethal power play, spearheaded by that duo.

In particular, look for how Steen tries to read Thornton as he directs traffic on the power play from the side boards. Pavelski loves to get his one-timer off from the slot on the power play as well. I can't wait to see how Steen plays into all that. Steen has taken on all comers so far in two series, including Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round and Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars in the second round. Steen is letting the world know this spring what the Blues have known for a long time: He's got the kind of two-way game that should garner him a Selke Trophy one day. -- Pierre LeBrun

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Blues vs. Logan Couture, C, Sharks

As Pierre points out, it's safe to assume that the Hertl-Thornton-Pavelski line is going to get a steady diet of Steen, but also Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. If the previous two series are any indication, that's not necessarily going to go well for the Sharks' stars. As Pierre points out, Steen tended to do well against the stars of the previous series, which makes this secondary matchup an interesting one in this series. Couture has been great in this postseason, with 17 points in 12 games, and is a big reason the Sharks are still playing.

If the Joes are slowed down by the Blues' top pair, it's on Couture to get the advantage against Shattenkirk, who saw a heavy dose of Jason Spezza in the second round against the Stars. Shattenkirk shook off an inconsistent first round against the Blackhawks and was better against the Stars. He's been productive offensively, with 10 points in 14 games. After scoring four times against the Minnesota Wild, Spezza was held to one goal against Shattenkirk and the Blues, and that came on the power play. For the Sharks to advance, Couture will have to produce more than Spezza was able to in the second round. -- Craig Custance