On the way to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, the Kings dispatched the Blues in a sweep in the second round last season.
Lots went wrong for the Blues. Jaroslav Halak and Alex Pietrangelo were injured. And St. Louis was forever searching for momentum as of the Blues' six goals in the series, the Kings scored five times within eight minutes of those tallies. Things just never went St. Louis' way.
But that was last season. This season the Blues and Kings finished a point apart from one another, with St. Louis winning out on the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage. While home-ice isn't always a huge factor in series, the Kings haven't fared so well away from Staples Center. LA was 8-12-4 on the road this year.
It remains to be seen what sort of factor home-ice will play, but checking recent history, the Kings have won their last eight straight games over the Blues, including the sweep a year ago. Can the Blues derail LA's attempt at a repeat?
St. Louis Blues (4) vs. Los Angeles Kings (5)
April 30: Los Angeles Kings at St. Louis Blues, 8 p.m. ET.
May 2: Los Angeles Kings at St. Louis Blues, 9:30 p.m. ET.
May 4: St. Louis Blues at Los Angeles Kings, 10 p.m. ET.
May 6: St. Louis Blues at Los Angeles Kings, 10 p.m. ET
May 8: Los Angeles Kings at St. Louis Blues* TBD
May 10: St. Louis Blues at Los Angeles Kings* TBD
May 13: Los Angeles Kings at St. Louis Blues* TBD
The Blues saw three forwards score double digit goals this season. Had he not missed 18 games, T.J. Oshie (7 goals) likely would have been the fourth. He's set to return in time for Game 1 on Tuesday.
St. Louis isn't going to wow you offensively, that's not Ken Hitchcock's style. They were 17th in the NHL averaging 2.58 goals per game and were 23rd in the league with 27.8 shots per game. But for them to knock off the Kings, the Blues will need performances out of their top guns that they haven't been providing of late. Chris Stewart has only scored three times in 19 games. Patrik Berglund three times in 20 games. And David Perron's put up just one goal in 20 games.
LA finished last season 29th in goals scored. Of course, they didn't have the benefit of a full season with Jeff Carter in the lineup. The Blue Jackets castaway was fourth in the Rocket Richard Trophy race this season with 26 goals and was helped out offensively by Dustin Brown (18 goals), Mike Richards (12), Justin Williams (11) and Anze Kopitar (10).
The production of their depth has been key and if Dustin Penner (2 goals, 14 points) can't find his scoring touch from a year ago, rookie Tyler Toffoli has filled in nicely with five points in 10 games. The Kings were 12th in the NHL with 29.8 shots per game. Getting the puck to the net, disrupting Brian Elliott's crease and capitalizing on those garbage-type goals will be the perfect recipe for another series win over St. Louis.
The Kings only played six defensemen in all 20 playoff games last season. The injury bug didn't bite them en route to the Cup. This season, just in case, head coach Darryl Sutter will have extra bodies available for a rotation, if he chooses to. Robyn Regehr and Keaton Ellerby were brought over in trades, while rookie Jake Muzzin had a sold rookie season with 7 goals and 16 points while averaging 17:53 of ice time. Drew Doughty was the main offensive source last postseason for the Kings, but the presence of Muzzing and Slava Voynov (6 goals, 25 points) will help in that department.
Adding to an already top defense, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong brought in Jordan Leopold from Buffalo and Jay Bouwmeester from Calgary at the trade deadline. Besides the storyline of Bouwmeester playing in the postseason after 764 career NHL games, those two veterans shored up a deep blueline. St. Louis finished fifth in least goals allowed (115) and feature a good mix of offensive and strictly defensive-minded players. They will be put to the test by the Kings, who's rolling of four lines help them to the Cup last season.
The Kings rode Jonathan Quick's mind-boggling numbers to a Stanley Cup, but the franchise goaltender took a step back this season. Well, OK, a step back in Quick's world which ended with an 18-13-4 record, 2.45 goals against average and .902 save-percentage. Still decent numbers, but nothing like a season ago. Potentially troubling for Quick and the Kings are his numbers on the road. Quick was 5-9-3 away from Staples Center with a 3.11 GAA and .891 save-percentage. Compare that to 13-4-1 / 1.79 / .917 at home and it should make for an interesting opening two games of this series.
The duo of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott won the William M. Jennings Trophy in 2011-12. This year, the pair experienced their ups and downs, with rookie Jake Allen having to play the role of savior for brief time in March. Injuries caused Halak to start 15 games this season, with Elliott, in-between a stop in the AHL, in goal for 20 starts. It wasn't until the call up from Peoria that Elliott found his game and was 11-2-0 / 1.48 / .948 in April, earning himself the starting nod for Game 1. Struggling vs. the Kings last postseason with an inner-ear infection, Elliott is healthy now, but given his Jekyll and Hyde play, which Brian Elliott will the Kings see?
Does Their Season Deserve an Asterisk?
The Kings and Blues were expected playoff teams before the season began and while St. Louis might like a few more games to allow their offensive to get in sync, they're both deserving of playing extra hockey.
Both have Stanley Cups on their resume. Both have lost a Cup Final. Darryl Sutter and Ken Hitchcock know what it takes to find success as a coach in the NHL, but Sutter's ability to keep his voice fresh in the room and push the right buttons when needed has produced more recent success. That has continued into this season, where Sutter hasn't allowed a championship on their mantle to let complacency affect how LA enters the playoffs.
A year ago, the Kings power play was in the midst of a 1-for-37 slump when they swept the Blues. Their penalty kill, on the other hand, was rolling after not allowing a goal on 17 St. Louis opportunities. Led by Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown (8 power play goals) and Mike Richards (6 PPGs), the Kings finished eighth in the NHL with 34 PPGs and were successful 19.9 percent of the time with the man advantage. Their kill was strong again at a 83.2 percent clip, and despite only two shorthanded goals on the season, LA can be incredibly dangerous with the likes Richards and Anze Kopitar out there.
The Blues improved on the power play from last season, going from 16.7 percent in 2011-12 to 19.5 in 2013. Chris Stewart (6 PPGs) and Patrik Berglund (5 PPGs) are their leaders, but the wealth is spread out on the power play with 13 different players scoring with the man advantage for St. Louis this season.
With a strong goalie tandem and one of the stingiest defenses in the league, it was no surprise that the Blues' penalty kill ranked seventh at 84.7 percent. Alex Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester will be the workhorses on the kill. Getting Oshie back healthy for Game 1 will be a big boost for that unit.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of Southern California are floundering. The Dodgers are under .500 after taking on millions in salary. The Lakers were swept in the first round; and LA still doesn't have an NFL team. Like play-by-play man Bob Miller said last June, the Kings are kings:
Brookroyal performed the official Blues playoff anthem last season. Seems rock-y enough to have another go this year:
Kings in 6.
We know the Blues defense will be there, but which Brian Elliott will we see? And can their offense find a spark to get past the Kings? LA, on the other hand, have the offense led by Jeff Carter, who scored 8 goals and 13 points last postseason. They didn't experience the short summer that other Stanley Cup champions have and despite 48 games in the span of 99 days, they should be plenty refreshed for another run at a title.
In the end, the Kings' defense, with Jonathan Quick back in form, should stifle the Blues' lesser offense and move on to the second round.