Los Angeles Kings vs. St. Louis Blues: 5 Keys for Kings to Win the 1st Round
With the Kings finishing in fifth place, the Blues will have a home-ice advantage for the series, but it doesn't change the fact that the Blues have struggled against the Kings for the past two seasons.
In addition to the dominant 4-0 sweep in last year's playoffs, the Kings have won nine of the last 10 regular-season matchups with the Blues. However, the Kings shouldn't take the Blues lightly, and they will still need to execute some important keys to take the series.
Out St. Louis St. Louis
Last year, everyone talked about the heavy, grinding style that the St. Louis Blues played. It was all about their big forwards and the relentless hitting and forechecking opponents endured when playing the Blues.
The Kings subsequently came into the series and flipped the script on St. Louis by playing their game against them, only better. Last year's 4-0 series sweep of the Blues was perhaps the most dominant series in the Kings' entire postseason. They outhit, outscored and outplayed the Blues.
The Kings are going to work physically in this series because St. Louis is going to play with an edge and a taste for revenge. However, if the Kings can again flip the script and play the Blues game better than the Blues, it will once again be demoralizing.
Win on the Road
The Kings have struggled this year on the road. There's no question about that. The 8-12-4 record on the road is second worst among all 16 playoff teams this year.
Last year, the road-warrior mentality was a massive boost to the Kings, which seemingly couldn't lose in opposing arenas.
The only thing counterbalancing the Kings' away record is the home record of the St. Louis Blues, which at 15-8-1 is the second worst in the West behind Minnesota. It's also important to note that two of the Blues' home losses this year came to the Kings.
St. Louis did not play well traveling to the Pacific, so if the Kings can start the series off taking one or both of the home games, it may be an early tipping point.
Shut Down the Stewart-Berglund-Perron Line
While the big names you know from the Blues are still David Backes,T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues' second line has been phenomenal this season.
Chris Stewart, a fourth-liner and healthy scratch at times last season, has had a revival year after leading the team in scoring with 18 goals and 36 points. Right behind him in scoring is linemate Patrik Berglund, who with 17 goals was on pace for a career year. David Perron is also on a bit of a revival tour with 25 points this year. He acted as the puck retriever and setup man for his linemates.
The Blues second line is big, physical and capable of scoring goals. In fact, the trio of Stewart, Berglund and Perron scored 45 goals for the Blues, while the 11 other forwards who dressed regularly for the team combined for only 15 more with 60.
Shutting down the Blues' high-scoring second line will go a long way in stifling their offense.
Stay out of the Box
While the five-on-five scoring for the Blues wasn't superb by any stretch of the imagination at 20th in the league, their power play made up for it by being 12th best in the league. They play a very physical and heavy game and goad a lot of teams into taking penalties against them out of frustration.
However, in the 2012 postseason, the Kings took that strength and flipped it on the Blues, frustrating them to the point that LA averaged seven power-play opportunities a game in the four-game sweep.
With the two teams matched almost point-for-point in all defensive categories, a power-play goal here or there could be a game changer. The Kings need to limit the opportunities they give St. Louis by staying disciplined and out of the box.
Play with Swagger
The Los Angeles Kings couldn't have a bigger mental edge going into this series.
The Kings dominated this matchup during the regular season and in the playoffs last year. In the 2012 postseason, the St. Louis Blues turned in a docile performance after they were feared for their physical prowess and intimidation. The Kings turned the lion into a cub in the span of four short games.
The Kings have essentially the same roster as 2012, and they need that same mentality. They have the upper hand mentally against St. Louis, and it won't take much for them to impose that "you won't beat us at our game" feeling.
St. Louis stands to lose a lot mentally in this series, and determination for revenge could turn into doubt and futility quickly if the Kings get out on the right foot and dominate the Blues.
This series has the feeling that if it doesn't go four or five in favor of the Kings, it will go seven in favor of the team with the fewest bruised, broken and bloodied players.