The Los Angeles Kings won 4-3 in Game 4 in Los Angeles and now head to St. Louis to take on the Blues Wednesday night in a critical Game 5 contest.
The first three games of the series were tight-checking, physical affairs all won by the home team. Game 4 opened up and yielded as many goals as had been scored in all other three games combined. Will Game 5 be a tight, physical game where open ice is hard to come by? Or will it open up as the game did on Monday night?
To answer that question, let's first review the first four games and look at some key stats (per NHL.com).
Game 1 @ St. Louis: Blues 2, Kings 1 (OT)
This game was dominated by the Blues. Even though the hits numbers will show the Kings had the edge, the Blues were more physical and locked down the Kings offense. L.A. forward Justin Williams scored with 32 seconds left in regulation to send the contest into overtime.
At the start of a four-minute power play for the Kings in overtime, Jonathan Quick fumbled with the puck behind his own net and gave it away to Alexander Steen who beat Quick to the net and tucked it in. Quick's gaffe tarnished an otherwise outstanding performance, saving 40 of 42 shots.
Hits: Kings 41, Blues 38
Faceoff Wins: Kings 25, Blues 44
Blocked Shots: Kings 17, Blues 18
Power Play: Kings 0-of-2, Blues 1-of-5
Shots: Kings 29, Blues 42
Game 2 @ St. Louis: Blues 2, Kings 1
The Kings scored halfway through the first on a Dustin Brown tip and held the lead until early in the third period when Patrik Berglund tied it.
Barret Jackman scored the game-winner with only 51 seconds left in regulation on a wrister from just inside the blue line. Jackman joked after the game (per NHL.com), "I had my eyes closed, so I really didn't see it...I thought I wasn't going to shoot knowing the way my hands are, but I just put it on net past the D-man. I don't know if [Kings goalie Jonathan Quick] saw all of it."
Quick said, "I've got to stop that," he said. "It's my fault...two games in a row. I've got to be better."
Hits: Kings 38, Blues 38
FO Wins: Kings 26, Blues 32
Blocked Shots: Kings 11, Blues 7
PP: Kings 1-of-4, Blues 0-of-4
Shots: Kings 29, Blues 25
Game 3 @ Los Angeles: Kings 1, Blues 0
Slava Voynov wristed one home early in the second period through a massive scrum in front of Blues goaltender Brian Elliott. The goal held up as Quick shut out the Blues, stopping all 30 shots he faced. The Kings increased their physical play from the first two games and outhit the Blues.
Hits: Kings 53, Blues 39
FO Wins: Kings 28, Blues 28
Blocked Shots: Kings 10, Blues 14
PP: Kings 0-of-4, Blues 0-of-4
Shots: Kings 21, Blues 30
Game 4 @ Los Angeles: Kings 4, Blues 3
Within the first five minutes of the game, David Backes buried the puck into a wide-open net after getting a great bounce off the end boards after a Jay Bouwmeester shot, and T.J. Oshie scored a power-play goal goal on a great tip off a Kevin Shattenkirk blue-line slapper to establish a seemingly insurmountable lead considering the tone of the series up to this game.
King goals by Jeff Carter on a two-on-one with Mike Richards and Dustin Penner on a beautiful three-on-one with Jarret Stoll and Alec Martinez tied the contest at two after the first period.
Oshie outwaited Quick and roofed one to regain the lead for the Blues early in the second, but the Kings' superstars took over in the third. Anze Kopitar broke out of his 19-game goalless drought off a great pass from Dustin Brown, and Justin Williams scored the game-winner on a high tip off a Richards shot.
Hits: Kings 42, Blues 46
FO Wins: Kings 31, Blues 29
Blocked Shots: Kings 5, Blues 19
PP: Kings 0-of-2, Blues 1-of-2
Shots: Kings 29, Blues 22
Now let's take a look at offensive and defensive keys and X-factors that will influence the outcome of the game.
Control the Puck
Numbers-wise, the Kings are out-hitting the Blues. This needs to continue, especially on the Blues' skilled defensemen, Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo. This will allow the Kings to control the puck and will facilitate them doing what they do best—use their size and skill to cycle the puck and create scoring chances.
This was done to perfection with Kopitar's goal as Dustin Brown maintained control of the puck, looped back and forth around Blues players and made the perfect feed to Kopitar. If they continue to have shifts like this often in Game 5, then they will have great success.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock talked about the Kings' third-period play (per NHL.com) and said, "I think it was just a continuation of the second period, to be honest with you. They took the game to another level. Tonight we didn't have answer."
The Blues did an outstanding job of cycling the puck and of controlling it in the first two games, especially with their fourth line of Chris Porter, Ryan Reaves and Adam Cracknell, called the "CPR" line. The trio combined for a whopping 18 hits in the first game and dominated the Kings' fourth line of Jordan Nolan, Brad Richardson, Dustin Penner and Kyle Clifford, who put together only had five.
Penner started on the fourth line but was moved up to be with Kopitar and Carter. Clifford replaced Penner on the fourth line for the first game.
Star Players Need to Score
It was a big relief for the team and fans alike to see Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar score goals on Monday, and this will again be a key on Wednesday night. The Kings need for their big guns to help open up the game offensively, which would definitely favor their snipers.
Likewise for the Blues, who need to see their top scorers from the regular season, Chris Stewart and David Backes, have an impact on the scoresheet. Each of those players only have one point apiece through four playoff games.
Score on PP and Bury Chances
The Kings were able to bury their chances on Monday, and in a tight-checking physical series, when those chances arise, they have to be taken advantage of. The Kings are overall only 1-of-12 on the power play and that needs to improve to ensure success.
The Blues, who are 2-of-16 with a man advantage, also need to take advantage of these opportunities.
Generate More Shots
This has been a very defensive series so far. The Kings have only generated an average of 27 shots a game so far in the series, and the Blues have managed an average of just under 30 a game.
Obviously, more shots mean more chances for goals, so the team that shoots the puck more has the better chance to win the game.
Both teams need to shoot more along with traffic in front of the opposing goaltenders to find success. Both Quick (1.67 GA, .941 SV%) and Elliott (1.67 GA, .935 SV%) have been rock solid so far. If they see the puck, they will probably make the save. With traffic, that becomes tougher, and scoring opportunities open up.
Stay Out of the Box
Despite the physicality of the series, the two teams have only combined for 27 total power plays for the four games, an average of just under seven a game. Neither team has excelled with the man advantage, but that doesn't mean it isn't a key for this game.
With scoring chances tough to come by, both teams will want to stay away from giving their opponent a man-advantage opportunity.
Keep Opposing Big Guns Off Scoresheet
This seems to be more important for the Blues to keep Kopitar, Carter, Richards and Williams quiet, but the Kings also want to see Backes, Stewart, Oshie, Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo begging for points.
Keeping the other teams' stars off the scoresheet necessitates other less-skilled players to step up and perform.
Goalies Need to Keep What They Are Doing
Both goalies have been outstanding so far with a slight edge going to Elliott for his play. Quick's two gaffes in Games 1 and 2 were huge factors in the Kings' losses. Aside from maybe Williams' goal late in the game in Game 1, Elliott hasn't really made any such mistakes.
If one of these goalies flinches and lets in a soft goal Wednesday, it could be enough to prevent his team from winning.
What will be the X-factors in Wednesday's game?
The biggest X-factor in the game will probably be the battle of the fourth lines. If the CPR line dominates like they did in the first two games, the Blues' chances will be improved. If Colin Fraser and Kyle Clifford, with the third spot on the Kings' fourth line having other players rotated into it with Darryl Sutter's decision to dress seven defensemen, can take control, it gives their club a chance to set up an elimination game on home ice.
The Kings definitely have it. They looked like they were in trouble after the first two games but won both contests on home ice to even the series. The Kings seem to have found their cycling, forechecking ways. Some doubt could be creeping in the Blues' minds after a fast start in the series.
The home team has won every game in the series, so this obviously favors the Blues. Can the Kings break this trend or will will the home team hold serve once again?
The Kings are the defending Stanley Cup champions and have been through this experience before and are a very poised, veteran team.
With the Kings' success last season and with the last two wins, you have to think that they are a pretty confident group right now. The question is: Are the Blues confident because they are battling the Kings tooth and nail this season, or are they a little fragile with the last two losses?
We will find out on Wednesday.
The Kings have found their legs in the series, and their stars found their way onto the scoresheet. They have momentum, experience and confidence. The Blues are a better team than last year, but unless they dominate the Kings physically like in the first two games, I see L.A. taking this one.
Kings 3, Blues 2
I welcome any comments you may have. Thanks for reading!