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Five observations from Sharks' 6-3 win over Blues in Game 1 of West final

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Five observations from Sharks' 6-3 win over Blues in Game 1 of West final

The Sharks opened a third straight Stanley Cup playoffs series with a win on Saturday night. The home team found the net in every period, and tied their largest margin of victory in these playoffs, with a 6-3 win in Game 1 over the Blues.  

Here are five observations from the Western Conference final opener.

Logan Couture keeps on scoring

He put San Jose on the board less than four minutes into the contest, and secured victory late with the empty netter. Those are his 10th and 11th markers of this postseason.  The center is coming up huge, just as he did in 2016 when playing for the Cup.

Since 2010, only Alexander Ovechkin (50) has more playoff goals than Couture (45).     

Evander Kane

One of the less obvious stat leaders on Saturday night could have been Evander Kane. Nobody recored more hits by San Jose in the game than the power winger, who still hasn’t appeared to hit full stride on a regular basis during these playoffs.  

The physical game suits Kane well, however, and considering the opponent and their tactic of laying the body, this could be the perfect way for Kane to make his (literal and figurative) mark with this matchup.

The Joe Pavelski story continues

The Joe Pavelski story is almost at Mighty Ducks level. As in, Hollywood couldn’t write a more compelling script than what we’ve witnessed so far. The captain who became an emotional centerpiece of the first round, then returned to help close out in the second round.  

All Pavelski did was score on the power play on Saturday night to open up the Western Conference final. With four goals and four assists, Pavelski is not among the team leaders, but it becomes more impressive when you consider all that has come in less than his nine full playoff games.

Rookie goaltender

Goalie Jordan Binnington and the Blues were 5-1 on the road in these playoffs entering their matchup with the Sharks. Binnington, a rookie who is up for the Calder Trophy, had never previously faced San Jose, or obviously played an NHL game at SAP Center.

And while his rise and performance this season were legitimate, the Sharks have to be pleased with their first encounter sending a message to the St. Louis netminder.  

Blues' comeback attempt

St. Louis made a noticeable and respectable third-period push in Game 1. Maybe it was San Jose taking their foot off the gas with a late lead? Maybe the Blues started to figure some things out? As my colleague Scott Hannan stated on our television coverage, it’s hard to carry game play for a full 60 minutes in the postseason.  

The Sharks did hold a majority of control on Saturday night, but the visitors carved out their own chances in the middle to late portions of the third period. It would be foolish to think that Craig Berube and the Blues won’t sift through all the video, make proper adjustments and challenge San Jose to a much greater extent on Monday night.

Sharks 'very happy' with Ryan Merkley's progress before first pro year

Sharks 'very happy' with Ryan Merkley's progress before first pro year

The Sharks seem somewhat set at the top of the right side of their defensive depth chart, at least for now.

Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson are established veterans, with three Norris Trophies and nearly 1,300 NHL points combined. They're also 35 and 30, respectively, in a league that is becoming increasingly youth-driven. The future quickly becomes the present in the salary cap-driven NHL, and contributors on rookie contracts are among the most valuable commodities in the sport.

San Jose arguably had an eye towards that future even before general manager Doug Wilson traded for Karlsson. Nearly three months prior, the Sharks drafted right-handed defenseman Ryan Merkeley with the No. 21 overall pick. Now, just over two years later, Merkley is the team's top prospect entering his first professional season, and the Sharks are "very happy" with his progress.

"He's just a hockey rat who wants to be at the rink, and those are the types of guys we want to work with," Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. 

Wilson Jr. said Merkeley's love of the sport stood out before and after the Sharks drafted him in 2018. The Sharks executive noticed Merkeley lingering on the bench at the NHL scouting combine that year, catching up with his peers well after his workout session was completed. Merkley also stuck around in Dallas after he became the first first-round defenseman taken by San Jose in five years, sitting in the team's suite at the American Airlines Center on the draft's second day and chatting with former development coach (and current Sharks assistant) Mike Ricci.

That, combined with Merkley's high-end skill, made the defenseman an easy choice for the Sharks despite concerns about his attitude and defensive game. San Jose drafted Merkley as a 17-year-old, and he would be traded twice in his last two seasons in the OHL. Merkley settled in with the London Knights this past season, scoring a career-high 76 points (15 goals, 61 assists) and leading the Knights to first place in the Western Conference when the season was suspended -- and eventually canceled -- due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wilson Jr. has previously said he felt Merkley made strides on defense, and the Sharks will continue to work with him up close. Whether Merkley starts next season in the NHL or the AHL with the Barracuda, he'll develop under the front office's close watch in San Jose.

"At the draft (in 2018), I think what I was saying was you can't teach Merkley's skill, so that's when you have to really dig in and learn about the kid more to see if he has what it takes to learn, and be coachable, and progress the rest of his game and build that foundation," Wilson Jr. said. "And in our opinion he did, so we're excited to have him part of our future and have him turn pro this year."

[RELATED: What Sharks fans should know about Stanley Cup playoffs]

Merkley will be one to watch whenever the Sharks convene for training camp. San Jose has no right-shooting defenseman signed beyond this season other than Burns and Karlsson, yet it's fair to wonder if the 20-year-old would be better served logging big minutes in all situations for the Barracuda to start his pro career.

No matter which level Merkley begins at next season, the Sharks' future beyond Burns and Karlsson will be here sooner than you think.

2020 NHL playoffs: Everything Sharks fans need to know when tuning in

2020 NHL playoffs: Everything Sharks fans need to know when tuning in

Watching the Stanley Cup playoffs this summer must be a strange experience for Sharks fans.

Sure, it's weird for every hockey fan watching games played in front of empty arenas in the middle of August during a global pandemic. But Sharks fans haven't spent much of the last few years as passive postseason observers, advancing to at least the Western Conference final in two of the four years preceding 2020.

There are plenty of intriguing storylines now that the playoff field has been whittled down to 16 teams. Which should Sharks fans pay attention to? Here's a guide to the postseason for San Jose supporters.

The Villains

Sharks fans' rooting interests in the playoffs can be best described as "Anyone but the Vegas Golden Knights." Not only did San Jose and Vegas square off in the last two postseasons, but the Golden Knights now are coached by former Sharks bench boss Peter DeBoer.

You'd have a difficult time convincing teal diehards to root for Chicago in the first round, considering how many times "Chelsea Dagger" played in the Original Six franchise's Western Conference final sweep of the Sharks a decade ago. But when the alternative is seeing the DeBoer-led Golden Knights march toward a Stanley Cup, Sharks fans have an easy choice.

The Familiar Faces

My colleague in content Brian Witt highlighted some of the biggest former Sharks still playing for a Stanley Cup. Dallas Stars forward Joe Pavelski -- that's still odd to type -- leads the list, but there are quite a few players who once donned teal who are playing for hockey's ultimate prize.

The Eastern Conference could lead to some difficult rooting choices for Sharks fans, though. It's likely that two of the Philadelphia Flyers (Justin Braun), Tampa Bay Lightning (Barclay Goodrow) and Washington Capitals (Brenden Dillon) will square off, and each player still is looking for their first ring.

[RELATED: How Sharks benefit from Rangers winning NHL draft lottery]

The Jokes

Somewhat surprisingly, the NHL really has leaned into the weirdness of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs being played in two buildings -- Edmonton's Rogers Place and Toronto's Scotiabank Arena -- for audiences watching from their couches. There has been a tribute to the "fans" in attendance, a ban on the wave and even multiple appearances from designated hat throwers when a player scores a hat trick.

The NHL had to postpone a playoff game because Game 1 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Arena went to five overtimes. Columbus' official account then tweeted this.

The Sharks had some fun with it, too. Collectively commiserating over the playoffs' fundamental strangeness is going to lead to a lot more over the next couple months, even if San Jose isn't a part of the postseason.