This is going to be a quick-hit read predicting the second round of the NHL playoffs.
I'll break down the offensive, defensive and goaltending advantages and then predict which team will prevail and in how many games.
This series will be defined by aggressive fore-checking, lots of hits and stellar goaltending. The winner will be the team that takes the special teams advantage or gets more of the lucky bounces.
Offence: Advantage (Minor) Blues
STL: 14 goals in five playoff games, five over-40 point scorers in the regular season, 33.3 powerplay percentage, leading scorer: David Backes/TJ Oshie 54 points
LA: 12 goals scored in five playoff games, four over-40 point scorers in the regular season, 11.5 powerplay percentage, leading scorer: Anze Kopitar 76 points
The Kings have more "Elite" scorers, but the Blues just have some incredible scoring depth and a currently deadly-hot power play.
Defence: Advantage (Major) Blues
STL: Eight goals allowed in five playoff games, four players with over-100 blocked shots in the regular season, 88.2 penalty kill percentage, allowed 144 shots against / 28.8 shots against per game in five playoff games
LA: Eight goals allowed in five playoff games, three players with over-100 blocked shots in the regular season, 85.7 penalty kill percentage, allowed 172 shots against / 34.4 shots against per game in five playoff games
Again, the Blues' superior depth comes into play here. The SA/PG stat is the most telling.
Goaltending: Advantage (Minor) Blues
STL: Jaroslav Halak (Reg. Season 46GP 26-12-7, .926%, 1.97GAA / Playoffs: 1-1-0, .935%, 1.73GAA)
Brian Elliott (Reg. Season 38GP 23-10-4, .940%, 1.56GAA / Playoffs: 3-0-0, .949%, 1.37GAA)
LA: Jonathan Quick (Reg. Season 69GP 35-21-13, .929%, 1.95GAA / Playoff: 4-1-0, .953%, 1.59GAA)
Jonathan Bernier (Reg. Season 16GP 5-6-2, .909%, 2.36GAA / Playoffs: 0-0-0)
The goalie advantage is tight. In a one off of Halak and Quick, Quick slightly edges Halak, but the difference and the scale-tipper happens in the backups. If Quick goes down, Bernier is largely unproven and his numbers aren't great, where as if Halak goes down or struggles, Elliott can step right in and offer a comparable level of goaltending.
Three Players to Watch:
Andy MacDonald (STL): MacDonald ripped up the first round, with eight points in only five games. He could make a big difference in the series, as he missed all four games during the regular season meetings between the two teams. He's got 38 points in 46 games against the Kings in his career and looks to be the catalyst for the Blues offence.
Brian Elliot/Jaroslav Halak (STL): Halak was injured and Elliot took over and sealed the series win against the Sharks. So who starts Round 2? There's the guy who played most of the regular season and has the better playoff track record (against Montreal) in Halak. Or there's the guy who played slightly less but had much better regular and postseason numbers. He took over against San Jose and brought a sense of calm that allowed the Blues to close out the Sharks in five. It's a tough question and one that will be consistently asked if whichever one gets the start struggles at any point in the series.
Mike Richards/Jeff Carter (LA): He looked absolutely dominant against the Canucks in Game 1 but then dropped off the score sheet for the most part. The duo of Richards and Carter gives the Kings the kind of secondary scoring they've been lacking for years. But if they aren't scoring, it puts even more pressure on the No. 1 line of Williams/Kopitar/Brown to score and makes it a lot easier on the Blues' checking units. Carter and Richards have the big-game pedigree and skills to make a serious difference against the Blues. The only question left is: will they?
Verdict: Blues in Six Games
The Blues have a deeper offence, better defence and a huge advantage in special teams, which makes a huge difference when it comes to teams who play with similar styles. If Quick can steal a few games and if Richards and Carter show up to play, and if Kopitar and Brown continue to dominate, then the Kings may be able to push this series to seven games. But that is a few too many "ifs" for me.
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