The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings get set to defend their crown when they open up their first round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues. This could be one of the most evenly matched series on paper as the playoffs get set to kick off tonight with three contests including this one. A seven game series here wouldn’t surprise anyone, so with that, let’s preview the Blues and Kings series.
The St. Louis Blues have home ice in the series thanks to a strong finish to the regular season that saw them win three in a row to close out the year and seven of their last ten. A five game losing streak in early February and then another rough patch where they lost four of give at the end of March had the Blues fighting for their playoff lives.
Injuries have plagued this club all season long but they appear to be healthy and ready to go with rookie phenom Vladimir Tarasenko leading the charge.
Keys to the Blues success:
We’ve already mentioned it but the Blues need to stay healthy for this series. Tarasenko, Andy MacDonald and Alexander Steen will be called upon to help shoulder the load for the Blues along with David Perron and Chris Stewart.
But perhaps the biggest key for the Blues is goal. The three headed monster between the pipes of Brian Elliott, Jake Allen and Jaroslav Halak can be complicated but it appears it’s Elliott’s job to lose.
With the Kings offense as solid as most in the playoffs, Elliott could be the key to the Blues winning the series. If he’s not sharp, it could be over sooner rather than later.
Los Angeles Kings – regular season record 27-16-5. Good for 59 points and 5th in the Western Conference.
Despite a shortened NHL season that didn’t start until mid-January, the Kings appeared to have been suffering from a Stanley Cup hangover. With just two wins in their first ten games to start the year, they appeared to be in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Then they won seven of eight and never lost more than two games in a row for the rest of the year. All aspects of their game was suddenly clicking and they resembled the team that stunned the hockey world last spring that won the Cup.
Now they’re back for another run at Lord Stanley and they look good at being able to put together another deep playoff run.
Keys to the Kings success:
On defense they’re as solid as they come with the addition of Robyn Regehr. So for the Kings the key to winning the series is the same as the Blues. It comes down to a battle of the goaltenders.
Last season Jonathan Quick carried the Kings to some key victories that they had no business winning. This year the expectations are much higher and Quick will be under added pressure. A 2.45 GAA and a .902 save percentage are well below the league leaders, creating some concern that Quick is off his game. Not to worry as backup Jonathan Bernier was splendid in the 14 games he played this season, posting a 1.88 GAA and a .922 save percentage. Should Quick struggle early, look for Bernier to relieve him.
The Kings are too deep up front and with Bernier ready to step in and assume the number one netminder role, I’ll take the Kings in seven games.
Agree or disagree? We welcome your comments below.