Breakdown: Sharks vs. Blues

Updated: April 21, 2004, 2:42 PM ET
By Brian Engblom | Special to ESPN.com

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5-on-5
The Sharks have plenty of balance with five 20-goal scorers. Their ability to get contributions from all four lines makes them dangerous at all times. And even with injuries to key players the Blues have struggled to score goals more than anyone thought they would.

KEY PLAYERS
SAN JOSE
Jonathan Cheechoo
The second-year winger came on late in the season and tied for the team lead with 28 goals. Can he carry that over into the postseason?
ST. LOUIS
Chris Osgood
He has a Stanley Cup to his credit, but his play has been up-and-down and what he does in net will ultimately make or break the series for St. Louis.
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San Jose power play vs. St. Louis penalty kill
San Jose's power play was decent this year, but St. Louis has a tendency to take bad penalties. If the Blues cannot stay disciplined and allow the Sharks a lot of chances special teams could be a deciding factor.

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St. Louis power play vs. San Jose penalty kill
San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov is due to have a strong run, and while St. Louis has experienced snipers like Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight the Blues have struggled to score with the man-advantage. St. Louis will have to play the series tight to win, so special teams will be huge.

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Goaltending
Nabokov has been strong most of the season and gets good support. Chris Osgood gan be spectacular at times for the Blues but Nabokov is more consistent from game-to-game and gives San Jose an advantage.

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Coaching
Ron Wilson has all kinds of playoff experience and took the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998. He will have an advantage over the Blues' rookie head coach Mike Kitchen when it comes to matching lines and strategy.

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Intangibles
San Jose has maybe the best team chemistry in the NHL and can hurt opponents in so many ways, no matter who is on the ice, while St. Louis pushed so hard to just get into the playoffs that you have to wonder how much they have left.

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Prediction
San Jose in five.

Brian Engblom

NHL reporter/analyst
Brian Engblom serves as the ice level reporter for ESPN's National Hockey Night telecasts (since 1995) and for ABC Sports' NHL telecasts (since 2000). He's provided analysis on ESPN2 NHL telecasts since joining the network in September 1993.

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