For the second time in two seasons the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings will battle in the playoffs. Thanks to a St. Louis victory over Chicago and an LA win over San Jose, the two clubs finished 4th and 5th in the West, respectively. While last year the teams met in the second round, this year the two teams find each other as opponents in the first round.
The obviously storyline here is the St. Louis Blues are looking for redemption after being swept out of the playoffs by LA as the Kings rolled through the playoffs en route to a Stanley Cup win.
1968-69: Blues swept the Kings four games to zero in the semifinals.
1997-98: Blues swept the Kings four games to zero in the Conference quarterfinals.
2011-12: Kings swept the Blues four games to zero in the semifinals.
As you can see above, all three playoff series between the two teams have resulted in a sweep.
Road to the playoffs
The Blues started the year strong, winning six of their seven games in the month of January. February was a different story as the Blues slumped, dropping five games straight away. February ended with the Blues picking up just 10 points of a possible 24. March provided more mixed results with the team going 7-7-0. Finally, the Blues found their rhythm and it showed. The Blues won 12 of their final 15 games.
LA started out slowly, dropping six of their first nine games this season. Things straightened out near the end of February and into March as they picked up wins in nine games out of 11. The regular season ended with mixed results. In their final six games the Kings went 3-2-1.
The Blues should get T.J. Oshie and Barret Jackman back for Game 1. Jaroslav Halak will back Brian Elliott. Knock on wood, but the Blues enter this series healthy.
For the most part, LA is healthy as well. Matt Greene recently had a back injury as well as an injury "unrelated to his back" but should be good to go for the series. You won't see Willie Mitchell this time around. He hurt his knee and is out for the year.
It all boils down to Brian Elliott vs. Jonathan Quick. We saw this matchup last year and well ... it was ugly. This time around Elliott has Halak backing him and welcomes the Kings after a month of April that saw the goaltender go 11-2-0 with a 1.28 GAA.
LA counters with Quick, the man that won the Conn Smythe Trophy last season. Quick is an elite goaltender, but he's shown plenty of weaknesses this season. His numbers all slid compared to his spectacular 2011-12, proving that he is in fact human. Still, Quick is one of those guys that can rise to the occasion and take over a game. The Blues need to get to him early in this series.
Both teams are known for their defense. Both teams allowed an average of 2.38 goals per contest. Eerie.
The Blues allow an average of 24.2 shots a game compared to LA's 25.
However, the Blues would appear to have an edge on defense due to their upgrades at the trade deadline. The overall regular season numbers don't tell the whole story as both Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold weren't in the picture for a large portion of the year.
For LA, Drew Doughty is once again the man to watch. The Kings did add Robyn Regehr late in the year, but aside from him it's essentially the same group the Blues faced in the playoffs last year.
Blues average 2.58 goals a game. Kings average 2.73.
The St. Louis offense has been improving of late and has seen contributions across all four lines. However, they are prone to entering lengthy slumps which could spell disaster in a playoff series.
Top weapons: Chris Stewart, Patrik Berglund, David Backes and Alexander Steen.
The Kings rely on Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown to score their goals (44 combined). Anze Kopitar remains one of the most underrated players in the NHL. He posted 42 points in 47 games this season.
Top weapons: Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Justin Williams.
STL power play: 19.5% (12th)
LA power play: 19.9% (10th)
STL penalty kill: 84.7 (7th)
LA penalty kill: 83.2 (10th)
Sorry, but I'm actually not going to make a firm prediction here. On paper, the two teams are nearly identical in all of the important areas. Many NHL analysts have selected this series as one of the best of the first round because the two teams appear to be so evenly matched.
Despite the fact the Blues own the higher seed, most refer to them as the underdog because the Kings have manhandled the Blues for the better part of two years. You're better off flipping a coin than trying to determine if LA's mastery over St. Louis continues or if St. Louis finally bucks the trend. All things eventually come to an end.