Blues and Kings in a rematch: Only the strong will survive

News-DemocratApril 29, 2013 

— The revenge factor is there for the St. Louis Blues after getting swept out of the second round of the NHL playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

As luck would have it, the teams are matched up again in what figures to be one of the league's most anticipated and competitive series.

Game 1 is Tuesday at Scottrade Center and one thing is for certain -- bodies will be flying and the nets will be create traffic jams.

"I think probably on average they're the biggest team in the NHL as far as size...it's how you respond to that and how you play and boxing guys out," said Blues goalie Brian Elliott, who won 11 of his final 13 starts and on Monday was named the NHL's Second Star of the Month. "We've got a lot of big guys too. It's about doing what we want to do, not really worrying about them."

That's easy to say but tough to do.

The Kings have won eight straight against the Blues counting the second-round playoff sweep last spring and are 9-1-1 in the last 11 overall.

They have outscored the Blues 14-7 in three wins this season and 29-13 in the last seven.

"Look, we haven't beaten them in two years," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Monday. "I think we're really hungry for this series. It's a matchup that quite frankly if we're going to go far, the confidence if we could win this series would be astronomical."

The Blues finished the season on a 12-3 run that carried them all the way to the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. However, they were the No. 2 seed a year ago when they were swept by the eighth-seeded Kings.

"We think we're better. Whether we're good enough this series is going to tell," Hitchcock said. "But we think we're better than we've ever been and we're playing better than we've ever been --and we're going to need to."

Hitchcock said the Kings have what the Blues want -- a Stanley Cup championship and the knowledge of what it takes to get there.

"We can all talk about it, but they've done it," Hitchcock said. "We're better, we're a better team. More experience, two guys on the back end, (Jordan) Leopold and (Jay) Bouwmeester give us great depth. We went through a lot of adversity this year; we're stronger, we're better."

Hitchcock said just beating the Kings in Game 1 would be a good start with as little success as his team has had against them.

"We've got a lot to prove, not only to L.A. but to our elves and the rest of the hockey community," he said. "I think our guys are up to the challenge."

Blues captain David Backes believes his team's route to success is the same formula that worked at the end of the season --solid goaltending mixed with tight defense and relentless checking.

"We had to have everybody buy-in in on the team page and putting the team first rather than looking for points for individuals," he said. "When we have that team-first mentality we're a great team and when we go off on our own pages, we're a team that's easily beat.

"I think those lessons have been learned and we've seen the type of hockey that we need to play to be successful."

The Blues have won six straight at home, allowing just six goals during that span with Elliott in an otherworldly stretch of hockey.

In his last six games at Scottrade Center, Elliott is 6-0 with a 0.98 goals-against average. and .957 save percentage. The stingy goalie has allowed one goal or fewer in six of his last seven starts.

At 29 years old, Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester will finally be making his NHL playoff debut after 764 regular-season games with Florida and Calgary.

"It's been good, it's been a nice change for myself," said Bouwmeester, who joined the Blues in an April; 1 trade with Calgary. "Since we've come here we've gotten on a little bit of a roll and won some games and were able to move up and get home ice.

"It's an exciting time of the year. It's a new opportunity and I'm looking forward to it."

Bouwmeester said the transition to a new team so late in the season wasn't that tough.

"You looked at the team and how they played and the kind of players that they had...it's been an easy transition," he said. "On the personal side of things the guys have been real good and when the team's having some success and you're winning games and playing well, that makes the hockey side of things a lot easier, too."

After winning the Stanley Cup as a No. 8 seed, the Kings will enter the postseason with confidence. They have a scary group of forwards led by Jeff Carter (26 goals) and Anze Kopitar.

Goalie Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe trophy last season as playoff MVP and was in net as the Kings outscored the Blues 15-6 in the playoffs last season.

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

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