Stacking up the Blues and Kings for Round 1 of the playoffs

News-DemocratApril 29, 2013 

— Each of the three times the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings have met in the playoffs, it has resulted in a four-game sweep.

The Kings were swept twice in a row by the Blues (1969 and 1998) before returning the favor last spring on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.

But this series figures to go a bit deeper, given the recent playoff history and similarities between the teams.

Following is a position-by-position breakdown of the Kings and Blues, who open their first-round playoff series Tuesday night at Scottrade Center:

GOALIES

The Blues were outscored 15-6 by the Kings during their four-game sweep last season with Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick besting Blues goalie Brian Elliott.

Quick went on to win the Conn Smythe Award as playoff MVP.

It later turned out that Elliott was playing with an undisclosed at the time inner-ear infection, but this season has been different.

Quick (18-13, 2.45 goals-against average, one shutout) underwent back surgery in the offseason and struggled a bit early before returning to form late this season.

He held the Blues to six goals in four games a year ago and may still be inside their heads a bit unless Ken Hitchcock's team figures out a way to get more bodies, pucks and traffic to the net.

Elliott was 11-2 with a 1.28 goal-against average, .948 save percentage and three consecutive road shutouts over his final 13 appearances this season. On Monday he was named the NHL's Second Star for the month of April after setting a franchise record with 11 victories in the month.

Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak recently returned from a groin injury that led to opportunities, first for Elliott and later for rookie Jake Allen. When Elliott struggled, Allen (9-4, 2.46 goals-against) helped keep the Blues afloat until Elliott regained his all-star form of a year ago.

Elliott and the Blues allowed one goal or fewer 10 times in the final 13 games, with Allen playing the first game of the streak in a 3-1 win over Columbus.

FORWARDS

The Kings' Jeff Carter gave his team a huge jolt after coming over from Columbus last season and this season was the only forward in the Western Conference with more than 25 goals, scoring 26 in 48 games. Kings scoring leader Anze Kopitar (10 goals, 42 points) didn't have a goal in his last 16 games, but still piled up 12 assists during that span.

Kings captain Dustin Brown had 18 goals and adds a physical presence every time he steps on the ice.

Don't overlook L.A. centers Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll, each capable offensive performers. The Kings have a deeper talent pool at center than the Blues, but the Blues counter with depth and physical play.

Chris Stewart (18 goals, 36 points) topped the Blues in scoring. While David Backes' goal total dropped from 24 to six, he still led the team and ranked seventh in the league with 158 hits and remains a physical warrior.

T.J. Oshie's expected return should provide a spark for an offense that includes 10 forwards with at least six goals. Stewart and Patrik Berglund combined for 11 power-play goals as Berglund (17), Stewart and David Perron (10) were the only Blues with 10 or more goals.

Both teams have explosive, physical fourth lines that can set the tone for their teams in a single shift.

DEFENSEMEN

The Blues got two huge pickups in veterans Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold, who stepped right in alongside two of the league's top young defensemen in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk.

Their addition also gives the Blues perhaps the deepest defense corps in the league with Barret Jackman and Roman Polak on the third pairing.

Drew Doughty was the Kings' top defenseman throughout the Stanley Cup run and has plenty of backup help in players like Slava Voynov, Jake Muzzin, Matt Greene and Rob Scuderi. Veteran Robyn Regehr, who has played with Leopold and Bouwmeester, was a late-season pickup by L.A.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Overall, the teams were very close in the league rankings. The Kings were 10th overall in both the power play 919l9 percent) and penalty kill (83.2 percent) while the Blues ranked 12th on the power play (19.5 percent) and seventh on the penalty kill (84.7 percent).

But with special teams magnified in the postseason, the Blues must improve a power-play that netted only 10 goals in 83 opportunities (12 percent) in 29 games since March 1.

The Kings' power play was 9-for-38 (24 percent) in the final 11 games.

PREDICTION

The Blues learn from their mistakes a year ago and win 4-3 in a seven-game thriller.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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