Lady Luck must be on payroll with the Los Angeles Kings. Their late-season drop to eighth in the Western Conference aside, they've parlayed their third Stanley Cup playoff birth in as many seasons into a 4-1 series win over the top-seed Vancouver Canucks to set up a sweetheart matchup with the second-seed St. Louis Blues.
The Kings won three of four games this season against the Blues, a team to which they bear a strikingly close resemblance. Like St. Louis, LA replaced its head coach during the season, though Darryl Sutter's arrival didn't have quite as dramatic an impact on the Kings' fortunes as Ken Hitchcock's did on the Blues'.
Sutter merely kept the Kings from falling completely out of the playoff picture after they were picked to contend for the Cup, while Hitchcock transformed the Blues into one of the best teams in the NHL during the regular season and led them to their first win in a playoff game since 2004.
Of course, none of that matters anymore. Both coaches have their teams in the conference semis, thanks to top-notch netminding, solid defence and time scoring. Statistically speaking, no goaltending tandem was better during the regular season that St. Louis' Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, who combined for the best save percentage and lowest goals-against average in the league.
Not that LA's dynamic duo of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier were chopped liver or anything. They ranked third in save percentage and second in goals against.
Both pairings led their respective teams to five-game victories against last year's Western Conference finalists, with the Blues taking out the San Jose Sharks—the Kings' Pacific Division rivals.
Neither team does much in the way of putting the puck in the net (the Kings ranked 29th in goals per game this season, the Blues 21st), though both boast talented centers in their mid-20s (Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards for the Kings, David Backes and TJ Oshie for the Blues) as their best scoring threats.
Their most promising skaters, though, may well be youngsters on the blue line, where LA's Drew Doughty and St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk.
So what gives the Kings the "advantage" in this series?
Well, if LA could shut down the Canucks' potent attack and scratch against Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, they should be able to stop St. Louis' so-so offense and notch enough scoring against Halak and Elliott to survive the series. The Blues' home-ice advantage shouldn't matter much, either, not against a Kings squad that just won three games at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
Upending the Blues will be no easy task, but expect the Kings to get the job done in six.
And for those preseason Stanley Cup predictions to look that much less laughable as a result.
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