How They Got Here
St. Louis – The Blues continued their shockingly successful season with a relatively easy first round victory over the Sharks. San Jose took game one in that series before St. Louis reeled off four consecutive wins to give them a fairly lengthy break before round two.
Los Angeles – What makes this series so intriguing is that the Blues face a Kings team that appears to be just as hot as they are. Los Angeles hammered the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks in five games, which was an unbelievable upset. The Kings took three games in the always difficult Rodgers Arena in the series.
The regular season series was won by Los Angeles, 3-1.
Oct 18th — St. Louis 0, Los Angeles 5
Nov 22nd — Los Angeles 3, St. Louis 2
Feb 3rd — Los Angeles 0, St. Louis 1
Mar 22nd — St. Louis 0, Los Angeles 1 (Shootout)
Keys to the Series
1. Who Truly Has the Best Defense?
At the end of the regular season, the Blues and Kings were positioned statistically as the top two defensive teams in the NHL. St. Louis features a two-headed monster between the pipes with Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, who gave up less then two goal per game all year — the only team in the league to accomplish that. Conversely, Los Angeles is anchored by just one man, all-star netminder Jonathan Quick. Both clubs were strong on defense in their opening round contests, and as you can see by the last two regular season matchups between them this year, they enjoy the low scoring affairs. So, the winner of this series will be whoever truly is the best defensive squad.
2. STL’s Home Play vs. LA’s Road Success
It should come as no surprise now that the Blues are one of the league’s toughest teams on their home ice. In fact, in the regular season, their 30-6-5 record at the Scottrade Center was tied with Detroit for the top mark in the NHL. This would typically be a huge advantage for St. Louis in any series — especially with the West’s one seed eliminated –, but don’t expect Los Angeles to back down. The Kings shocked many people by winning all three games at the ruckus Rodgers Arena in Vancouver, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them steal a game or two in Missouri. With that being said, the winner of this series could likely be determined by how the Blues command their home building — I mean, as the higher seed they win the series if they don’t blow a home game.
3. How Will Teams React to Lengthy Break?
Both the Blues and Kings were given nearly a week off from live hockey action after they won their first round series in five games. This always provides an interesting situation for clubs as they prepare for the next opponent. Some teams aren’t affected by the layover and they immediately return to the high level of play that got them to that round. However, in some cases, there is the opposite effect. As a Denver native, I like to point to the Colorado Rockies of 2007 as an example. The Rockies ran through the first few rounds of the MLB playoffs, but were then swept after an extremely long break before the World Series. Point is, if either St. Louis or Los Angeles come out slow, the other team will have to take advantage.
Player to Watch
Anze Kopitar, Center, Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles may not typically light up the scoreboard, but when they do score it is typically because of their star center. Anze Kopitar led the Kings with 76 points in the regular season, and he continued his solid play in the opening round as he picked up four points on one goal and three assists. This is the type of effort the he will need to bring into what should be a lengthy battle with the Blues. However, it will be no easy task, as Kopitar will be marked all series long by St. Louis’ big and physical center David Backes. I believe Backes will purposely look to abuse Kopitar from the start in an effort to wear him down for the more significant games down the road. So, we’ll see how big of a factor the Kings leader can be at that point — perhaps in a game six or seven.
Look, I know this may sound crazy to a lot of people, but I really like the Kings. I nearly chose them to beat the Canucks in the opening round and then decided to go against my heart, which obviously didn’t pan out. This time I won’t make the same mistake. On the back of Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles will move into the conference finals.
Los Angeles advances, 4 games to 3.