Defensive stalwarts square off as Blues battle Kings
Friday, 04.27.2012 / 5:13 PMKINGS at BLUES
TV: NBCSN, TSN
Second-seeded St. Louis didn't need to see the first-round results to take eighth-seeded Los Angeles seriously. The Kings beat the Blues in three of four regular-season meetings, and Vezina Trophy finalist Jonathan Quick
allowed just a single goal in his three starts, posting a .989 save percentage. Brian Elliott, the undisputed No. 1 in St. Louis with Jaroslav Halak ailing, made only one start and one relief appearance against the Kings in the regular season, but posted a .977 save percentage in those outings.
The two best defensive teams in the NHL. The goalies that finished 1-2 in the League in shutouts, totaling 19 between them. Veteran head coaches that didn't start the season behind the benches where they currently stand, but who changed the fortunes of their respective teams upon their arrivals.
About the only storyline you don't hear being discussed when it comes to the Blues and the Kings are the offenses, but it's whichever team is able to find a way to generate a few goals that will move on to the Western Conference Finals. St. Louis was 21st in the League during the regular season averaging 2.51 goals per game, while Los Angeles was next-to-last at 2.29. Both teams improved somewhat in their five-game, first-round series wins -- 2.80 for the Blues, 2.40 for the Kings.
While the playoffs were in doubt for most of the season in Los Angeles, once the Kings did get in there wasn't much question Quick and their defensive system would give them a shot against top seed and Presidents' Trophy winner Vancouver. But no one could have expected the Kings jumping to a 3-0 series lead or finishing off the Canucks by winning their third game of the series at Rogers Arena.
That's exactly what happened Sunday when Jarret Stoll
scored at 4:27 of overtime for a 2-1 victory in Game 5, completing a comeback that started when Brad Richardson
tied the game early in the third. Quick, who allowed eight goals in 302 minutes (1.59 goals-against average, .953 save percentage), finished with 26 saves as Los Angeles won its first playoff series in 11 years.
"It's been a long road for a lot of guys in here that have been in this organization and put in a lot of time and just coming together as a group and to finally take a -- this is just one step -- but to take a step in this playoff atmosphere is huge for this team," captain Dustin Brown
said. "I'm just proud of this group."
The expectations might have been somewhat different in St. Louis, what with a Central Division title and higher seed, but the Blues had gone almost as long as the Kings without advancing in the playoffs before they dispatched of the Sharks. Elliott's goaltending and the dominant play of forwards Andy McDonald and Patrik Berglund allowed them to finish off San Jose for their first series win in 10 years.
Like the Kings, the Blues trailed 1-0 entering the third period in Game 5 before they rallied for a pair of goals 45 seconds apart. Veteran Jamie Langenbrunner evened the score with 8:44 remaining, then David Perron deflected a point shot by Alex Pietrangelo for the series-winning goal. McDonald's empty-netter gave him a team-leading four goals and eight points, while Elliott (1.37 GAA, .949 save percentage) stopped 50 of 52 shots over the final two games of the series.
"We play the right way, the way we have to play to win," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "And everybody is on that same page, and almost afraid to get off it. I think having to rely on each other kept the stress and pressure away.
"It's a very unique team. There are no superstars. There's just a bunch of guys that grew up together, they're having fun together, and now they're counting on each other."
Stoll scored a pair of goals for the Kings in the first round, and both were game-winners. … McDonald scored goals in each of the Blues' final four games against the Sharks, while Berglund had a goal and four assists during a three-game points streak.
Los Angeles forward Simon Gagne
led all scorers in the regular-season series between these teams with four points, but he's been out since late December with a concussion. Forward Kyle Clifford
is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. … Halak (lower body) has been ruled out for at least the first two games of this series. Forward Scott Nichol (undisclosed) is day-to-day.
With Gagne sidelined, Anze Kopitar
's two goals were the most scored by any player in the regular-season series. Kopitar, Stoll and Mike Richards
each finished with three points. … Langenbrunner, Vladimir Sobotka and Alex Steen were the only Blues to score goals against the Kings.
St. Louis went 43-15-11 this season once Hitchcock took the reins, while Los Angeles put together a 25-13-11 mark after Darryl Sutter's hiring. Both coaches understand what it takes to make a deep playoff run, and have a mutual respect for each other.
"It's a pretty good hockey club and he's a pretty strong leader, [with] a good veteran group and kids that probably just needed a clear focus," Sutter said. "Hitch can establish that in a hurry … that's what good coaches do. Guys who have coached for a long time, they can adapt, and they have a good pulse on the room. He does that."
"I'm happy for him," Hitchcock said. "I know what he's doing is what he wants to do. I know in his heart he's a coach and he loves coaching. I think he's at his happiest when he's barking and cajoling."