St. Louis Blues: 5 Keys to Closing Out the Kings
In what was highly regarded as the best potential first-round series, the Blues and Kings are playing a very physical and defensive match. Every game in the series has been a one-goal game highlighted by the outstanding goaltenders.
A 2-1 series lead is still anything but safe. The Blues need to continue to play their game and look for the right opportunities to strike. With the series being so physical, the Blues need to get past the Kings as fast as possible. These are five keys to getting out of the first round without being too banged up.
Pepper Quick with Shots
Jonathan Quick has easily been the early MVP for the Kings. He has stopped nearly everything for the Kings and has made nearly no mistakes. His most costly one was his assist on Alex Steen's overtime goal in Game 1.
With his stellar performances already, the Blues need to throw everything and the kitchen sink at Quick.
He will not be able to continue to make 42 saves like he did in Game 1 or 30 in Game 3. At least one or two will have to trickle through, and that's where the Blues are going to get their damage.
Good things happen when you throw the puck at the net, which is exactly what the Blues need to do. Pepper Quick with shots and a couple will go in, or he will give up a rebound that someone could slam home. Barret Jackman's goal shows exactly why the Blues should do it. Continue it and the Blues will be through to the second round.
Slam Home the Empty Nets
Probably the worst part of the Blues' game is not being able to score, even with some pure goal scorers on the team like David Perron and Steen. It makes it that much worse when they can't even score on the empty net.
The Blues had a few chances in Game 1 and 2 to score on an out-of-position Quick, but it was very apparent in Game 3. Particularly, Steen and Andy McDonald missing blatantly wide-open nets in the second period.
With goals being a huge premium in the series, the Blues have to convert on these chances. Not making the Kings pay for their mistakes, especially on the scoreboard, could be the biggest barrier to winning the series.
Quick is standing on his head. The Blues need to take what Quick gives them, which is never going to be much. Slamming home the empty-netters is imperative for a series win for the Blues.
Steal a Game in Los Angeles
Playing in front of the hometown crowd is easy, but going into another team's arena is difficult, especially in the playoffs. But the Blues need to get a win at the Staples Center.
The Blues have nearly identical home and away records, with a 15-8-1 home record and 14-9-1 away record. The Kings, however, have a lot more disparity in their home and away records, with an impressive 19-4-1 home record but mediocre 8-12-4 away record. Because of the difference in play, the Blues will have to get a game while on the road.
The Blues have the ability to go into another team's building and outwork them for the victory. Earlier in the year, the Blues had a 4-1 lead in the second period on March 6. The Kings would go on to score five unanswered goals, including four in the third.
The Blues have shown they can hang with the Kings and need to steal a game in Los Angeles. If the Blues can win Game 4, the series could be over a lot sooner than many thought.
Limit the Kings' Goal Scorers
The Blues play a defense-first style of game, which pays dividends when it works. Part of that style is being great on the penalty kill, and the Blues have lived up to that so far this series.
The Kings have a much-improved offense compared to last season, led by Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. The Blues have done a fantastic job limiting their goal scorers.
So far in the series, neither of them have scored a goal. The defense of the Blues has gotten into the lanes, blocking shots before they even reach Elliott. It has made it very difficult for the Kings.
The Blues make sure no one on the Kings feel comfortable when they have the puck. Playing a physical game and never letting them have an open shot has made Elliott's job a little easier. The Blues need to continue to limit the Kings' goal scorers, for if they get hot, not even a sharp Elliott will be able to stop them.
Elliott Continues to Stand on His Head
Last year, Elliott was playing with an inner-ear infection, and the Blues were bounced from the second round by the Kings via sweep. This year, Elliott is outperforming Quick.
Elliott has only allowed three goals in three games, posting an outstanding 0.93 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage. He has rebound control, taking away the angles and just playing an overall great game. He has stolen the starting job from Jaroslav Halak and will not relinquish it.
Slava Voynov's goal in Game 3 was somewhat of a weak goal. Elliott's resilience for Game 4 will determine if the Blues head back to St. Louis with a comfortable 3-1 lead or a much more intense 2-2 series tie.
Elliott has shown he can be inconsistent with his play, but this is some of the best play Blues fans have seen from the netminder.
If he can stay hot, the Blues could beat everyone, but if the wheels start to fall off, Elliott has to have the mental toughness to battle through it and come out with a victory. The Blues will ride Elliott's play as far as it will take them.