In the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs the St. Louis Blues will face the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. This series is a rematch from the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals, and there is unfinished business between both teams.
Both the Kings and Blues are riding high and have a ton of momentum going into this series, but which team has the edge?
This series is going to feature impact players like Jeff Carter, Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes, Jonathan Quick and assorted others who will look to make a difference for their respective teams.
The No. 4 and No. 5 matchup is always too close to call, but here is a preview and predictions for the St. Louis Blues vs. Los Angeles Kings first-round matchup.
Both the Blues and Kings had a solid regular season.
St. Louis Blues:
Early on in the 2012-13 season the Blues were one of the hottest teams in the NHL, and they picked up where they left off in the 2011-12 season. With a 6-1 start to the season, things were looking good for St.Louis. As the season went on, the Blues' play dropped off, partly because of injuries to players like Jaroslav Halak and Vladimir Tarasenko.
February was a horrid month for the Blues, and they finished the month off with a 4-7-1 record. In the month of March things started looking up, but the team went into free fall after ending the month by losing four of its final five games. The Blues would finish the month with a 7-7-1 record during the month of March, and they were No. 8 in the Western Conference.
Given the down play in consecutive months, it was clear a change was needed, and GM Doug Armstrong made some changes at the trade deadline. The biggest acquisition was the addition of defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, and it was a move that helped solidify the Blues' blue line. April was a much better month for St.Louis, and it was able to finish No. 4 in the conference by going 12-3-0 during the month of April.
Los Angeles Kings:
The defending Stanley Cup champions had an interesting season that featured many different ups and downs. The Kings were completely dominated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first game of the season by a score of 5-2, and their lineup was impacted by the loss of defenseman Matt Greene.
Greene's back injury effectively ended his season, and after only one game, the Kings were down a defenseman. Things only got worse after Willie Mitchell went down with an injury, but the Kings were able to bounce back later in the season after a terrible January.
Although the Kings lost two of their top defenders, sophomore Slava Voynov and rookie Jake Muzzin stepped up and became two of the team's top defenders. The exceptional play of these two youngsters softened the blow, and a midseason acquisition of Robyn Regehr help shore up the blue line. The top play on the blue line enabled the Kings to remain a playoff team for most of the season, and they clinched a playoff spot on April 20.
Offensively the Kings produced better this season than they did in 2011-12, and a big reason for that was the play of Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown. The Kings scored 2.73 goals a game this season, the 10th most in the entire NHL.
To make the playoffs the Kings took care of business during the month of April, and despite their No. 5 ranking in the Western Conference, they remain one of the top contenders for the Stanley Cup. The Kings are not underdogs like they were in 2011-12, but they are still a very good hockey team.
Ken Hitchcock was the NHL's best coach last season.
The biggest storyline in this series focuses on the history between these two teams. The Kings and Blues faced off last season in the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals, and this series should be just as interesting.
Last year's matchup was a series that was dominated completely by the Kings, and it only lasted four games. The Blues were the favorites in that series last year, and it is fair to say that the team would like to get some payback on the Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and there will definitely be some pressure on them to defend their title in the playoffs.The Blues were a Presidents' Trophy contender last season, and it must have been shocking to get knocked off by the No. 8 seed Kings.
Another key storyline in this series will focus on coaching. Ken Hitchcock won the Jack Adams Trophy last season as the NHL's top bench boss, and Darryl Sutter was able to guide the Kings to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history after taking over the team midseason.
Hitchcock and Sutter are two coaches with amazing resumes, and watching these coaches try to one up each other will be very interesting. Both teams have different rosters, and each coach will try the get the most out of their players during this important first-round matchup.
Sutter and Hitchcock both have Stanley Cups under their belts, and it will be a battle of the bench bosses during the first round of the playoffs.
Quick will be the most important player in this series.
David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues:
Playoff hockey ultimately comes down to defensive play, and the Blues have a roster full of two-way players that will need to play well during this series. Under Ken Hitchcock, the Blues play a tight defensive game, and they can generate offense from playing shutdown defense.
David Backes is one of the NHL's top two-way forwards, and his physical play is suited for the playoffs. He will lay out opponents with big hits, and he can wear down the opposition with his play along the boards.
Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester are three of the Blues' top defenders, and they are each going to be important when it comes to generating offense. Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk have been developing into two of the NHL's top offensive defensemen over the past few seasons, and Bouwmeester is a defenseman with a solid point shot.
In the upcoming series against Los Angeles, generating offense from defense could really have an impact, and these players have the best chance to make an impact.
Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Slava Voynov and Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings:
Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar are the Kings' best forwards, Slava Voynov is the Kings' best defenseman and Jonathan Quick is the Kings' starting goaltender. Each of these players should be watched closely, and they have the ability to make an impact.
Carter and Kopitar are offensive dynamos that will try and light up Brian Elliott, and they are tough forwards to defend. Slava Voynov had an amazing season with the Kings, and his play this year indicates that he has what i takes to make an impact during the playoffs. He is a defenseman who can generate offense, and he is a key guy on the power play. He has taken huge steps this season, and he can be an impact player during the postseason.
Jonathan Quick has been red hot as of late, and he is going to be the most important player for Los Angeles during this series. If he can replicate his play from last year's playoffs, the Kings could make short work of the Blues for a second consecutive year.
St.Louis Blues, Brian Elliott:
Elliott had a very up-and-down season for the St.Louis Blues, but he was able to come through in the clutch for the Blues. Elliott went 10-2-0 with a 1.30 GAA during the month of April, and if he can keep it up in the playoffs, the Blues will be a very tough team to play against. Jaroslav Halak backed up Elliott during the Blues' victory against the Chicago Blackhawks, and his groin appears to be fine for the playoffs.
Los Angeles Kings, Jonathan Quick:
Jonathan Quick's numbers are not as good as they were in 2011-12, but he has a 5-1 record in his last six starts. Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy last season as the playoff MVP, and he knows what it takes to win.
He is an experienced goaltender who has performed under pressure, and he is getting hot at the right time for the Kings. In this series, he will be the most important player, and he can be the difference in this series lasting four or five games as opposed to six or seven games.
Quick has the edge over Elliott.
The biggest mismatch in this series is goaltending, and it will be the factor that decides who wins this series. Although Brian Elliott had an amazing April, he is an inconsistent goaltender who doesn't have the history of success and experience that Jonathan Quick has.
Elliott in stretches has shown he can be a factor, but once he is off his game it is hard for him to turn it on. The best example of this was earlier in the year when Elliott had to be sent down to the minors.
As stated in the goaltender breakdown slide, Quick is a goaltender who had one of the best playoff runs with the Kings last season, and he is a goaltender who is getting hot at the right time. If Elliott stumbles early on, the Blues will likely put Jaroslav Halak in goal, but by that point it may be too late.
David Perron needs to step up in this series.
The St.Louis Blues made it to the Western Conference Semifinals last season because they were a team that had a balanced roster and strong goaltending. However, in last year's semifinals the Blues were overmatched against the Kings. This year the Blues will win this series if their goaltending can shut down the Kings' offensive weapons, and they will win if their forwards can step up.
Players like David Perron, Chris Stewart, T.J. Oshie, Alex Steen and David Backes will need to contribute, and providing key offense will take a lot of pressure off Brian Elliott.The Blues offense is going to need to step up, because the Kings have a roster that can really end a series early.
The Kings were in the top 10 in league scoring, and they were very good at putting the puck in the net during last year's playoffs. The Blues defense is one of the best in the NHL, seventh in least goals against per game, and they will need to shut down Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar.
Having consistent goaltending and scoring will help them to win this series, but shutting down the Kings' offense will be key. If the Blues can test the Los Angeles Kings' defense and frustrate Jonathan Quick, they will win this series.
The Kings' offense can help them dominate this series.
The Los Angeles Kings were able to run the table last year as the No. 8 seed, and this year they will open up on the road where they were dominant during the 2011-12 playoffs.
The Kings have a defense that can contain the forwards on the Blues' roster, and Jonathan Quick will be able to steal a few games if he has too. This season the Kings finished eighth in least goals allowed per game, and that will help them against the Blues.
The Kings will win this series easily if players like Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar keep scoring, because the Blues can't beat the Kings if it becomes an offensive shootout. That is something the Kings will need to exploit, and look for it to be a key point of this series.
As long as the Kings' offense continues to play well, they will win this series with relative ease. When you consider that the Los Angeles Kings are a team with amazing goaltending, a potent offense and a solid defense, they become one of the biggest threats to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
Los Angeles Kings over St.Louis Blues in five games.
This season the Kings went 3-0 against the Blues, and they ultimately have the better team. Although the Blues finished with a better record, the Kings are the better team and they should be the favorite in this series.
Los Angeles has better goaltending, a better offense and their defense was just as good as the Blues' defense in 2012-13. The Kings match up very well against the Blues, and that is because they know how to beat them.
In the three games this year, Los Angeles outscored St.Louis by a score of 14-7, and that should continue in the playoffs. The Kings offense should be able to take advantage of Brian Elliott, and Jonathan Quick and the Kings' defense shouldn't have a problem shutting down the Blues.
Last year, the Kings were able to take care of business in four games, but this year the Blues will make interesting by stealing a game,