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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 3:36 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Projected Game 3 lineups

LOS ANGELES -- Here are the projected lineups for Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN):

BLUES
Andy McDonald - David Backes - Matt D'Agostini
Alex Steen - Patrik Berglund - T.J. Oshie
David Perron - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart
Scott Nichol - Jamie Langenbrunner - B.J. Crombeen

Alex Pietrangelo - Carlo Colaiacovo
Kevin Shattenkirk - Barret Jackman
Roman Polak - Kris Russell

Brian Elliott
Jake Allen

KINGS

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dustin Penner - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dwight King - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Brad Richardson - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan

Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie MitchellSlava Voynov
Matt Greene - Alec Martinez

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier

Forward Kyle Clifford is available, but coach Darryl Sutter didn't say if he would play. Clifford has been out with a concussion since Game 1 of the quarterfinals.
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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 3:26 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Pietrangelo back in lineup for Blues

LOS ANGELES -- The St. Louis Blues will get a direly needed addition back in their lineup when defenseman Alex Pietrangelo returns from a lower-body injury (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN).

Coach Ken Hitchcock said after Thursday's morning skate that Pietrangelo is ready for Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings.

"He's in. He'll play," Hitchcock said. "He's ready to go."

Pietrangelo was injured in Game 1 and St. Louis hasn't looked the same because the defenseman plays a vital role on special teams and even strength.

Hitchcock didn't understate the effect of Pietrangelo's return.

"[Game 1] was 1-1 and we're probably playing better than they are, and then he goes out and this whole thing changes," Hitchcock said. "It's hard to believe that one player makes that big a difference, but obviously, in our game, he did. So we're hoping that the whole stability part gets back to our team where we've got the right players playing in the right situations.

"There's going to be no tie-down on allowing him to play the minutes. He's going to have to play big minutes. He knows that. We waited 'til the last possible minute that he could play without any reservations. He's there now. This series changed dramatically with that one play and for whatever reason we haven't been able to get back up to speed back there, but I think you'll see us play very well tonight."

Pietrangelo did not speak to the media. He has been skating the past two days and Los Angeles is preparing for a different Blues team with him.

"He's an impact player because of the minutes played and special teams so it makes a huge difference," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "It's exactly what Hitch says -- we have [Drew] Doughty and they have him."
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 5:39 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Blues hope Pietrangelo is OK for Game 3

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Alex Pietrangelo participated in practice Wednesday but St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock wouldn't commit to his status for Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings.

"He feels OK," Hitchcock said after the Blues' skate. "I don't know. We'll see tomorrow, if he feels OK tomorrow and wants to give it a go, we'll let him go. But it was nice to see him out there and he lasted the whole practice. It was a hard practice and he participated in everything, so we'll see."

Pietrangelo was boarded by Dwight King late in the second period of Game 1. He was at first thought to be concussed but Hitchcock later said it is a lower-body injury. Pietrangelo did not play in L.A.'s 5-2 win on Monday.

Pietrangelo is a major piece of the Blues' power play and his absence translated to an 0 for 9 performance in Game 2. St. Louis is 0 for 12 for the series and 0 for 26 on the season against Los Angeles.

One St. Louis player who didn't skate Wednesday was Jason Arnott. Hitchcock said the veteran center has a lower body injury and is day-to-day.

The Blues skated with Andy McDonald, David Backes and Matt D'Agostini on the first line, Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie on another line and David Perron, Vladimir Sobotka and Chris Stewart on another. There was no change on the fourth line of Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol and B.J. Crombeen.

Hitchcock appeared to mix up the defensemen pairings as he had Pietrangelo with Barret Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo with Kevin Shattenkirk and Roman Polak with Kris Russell.

"Don't read the d-pairs in," Hitchcock said. "You can read the forwards in if you want and write those down and see how far you can get with that one but don't take the d-pairs."

Hitchcock continued to credit the Kings for their performance in back-to-back wins in St. Louis and pointed to what his team is up against.

"This opponent has had to be dug in for a long time," Hitchcock said. "L.A. has had to dig in for a long time. And then they had to go through a really good team to get to this level. They're at 100 percent. Their commitment is 100 and we're probably 85, and we know now against L.A. that's not good enough."

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 3:52 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Despite road success, Sutter still prefers home cookin'

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- While his team became the first to win its first five road playoff games since the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04, Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter reiterated that he still prefers being at home.

Sutter is a stickler for scheduling and routine, and he says there also is a something to playing in a familiar building and feeding off that energy.

"I'm still old school and I still want to play a deciding game in our building," he said. "I think early in the series, early in the playoffs, especially teams in the West, they prefer to play that always, because of travel. That's how I feel. I've been on both sides of it and I've won and lost both sides, so I don't know what the answer is.

"If you have a distinct home crowd flavor, it's always better. I go back again, those old buildings, old Chicago Stadium. Now they say what's the difference? All the buildings are the same. The ice surfaces are the same. But your home crowd can influence if you handle it right. Composure with young players is a big thing. Preparation is a big thing. When you weigh all that stuff … I'm just set in my ways now."
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 3:48 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Clifford skating, working his way back into shape

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings forward Kyle Clifford skated again Wednesday in an encouraging sign in his recovery from what is believed to be a concussion, although the team is not using that term.

Clifford said he passed his "psych" test and feels better but is cautious about possibly coming back too soon after seeing other players make that mistake.

"It's just a matter of coming back at top shape," Clifford said. "It's a matter of time. It's going to happen."

Clifford got hit by Vancouver Canucks forward Byron Bitz in Game 1 of the quarterfinals and Bitz was suspended for the play.
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 7:24 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Kings aim for 60-minute effort in Game 3

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Little has gone wrong for the Los Angeles Kings thus far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but there was one teachable aspect that they brought back home after Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

The Kings jumped on the St. Louis Blues for a four-goal opening period, but they were outshot 24-5 the rest of the way as St. Louis got reorganized, although it was too little, too late to prevent a 5-2 loss.

L.A. reconvened at its home facility Tuesday feeling good about owning a 2-0 series lead. But the Kings know the last 40 minutes weren't the ideal way they would have liked to take to victory. 
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 3:32 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

In-season hirings Sutter, Hitchcock set to face off

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- In addition to having teams that mirror each other in playing style, Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter and St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock were both early-season hirings brought in because of poor starts under their predecessors.

Sutter replaced Terry Murray [and interim coach John Stevens] on Dec. 20, when the team was 15-14-4, and guided the Kings to a 25-13-11 record in the regular season. After nearly two years away from coaching in the NHL, Hitchcock took over for Davis Payne in November after a 6-7 start and went a stunning 43-15-11 with the Blues, including a 27-5-5 record at home.

Overall, St. Louis went 30-6-5 at home, a number that has gotten Sutter's attention when he looks at the differences between his club and Hitchcock's, who are set to meet in the Western Conference Semifinals.

"They have 30 wins at home, and that's a significant number," Sutter said on Thursday before the Kings departed for St. Louis. "I don't care how you cut that. You win 30 games at home, that's something special. And if you look at seasons, both teams made coaching changes that have impacted how the teams play. I know Ken's style really well and he knows my style really well, and that's sort of where you leave it."

The two have a seven-year difference in age. Sutter playfully noted that Hitchcock was "a '51," meaning he was born in 1951 while Sutter is "a '58" for his birth year of 1958. But the two have similar backgrounds and paths to getting behind the bench.

Hitchcock grew up in the suburbs of Edmonton, Alberta, not far from Sutter's hometown of Viking. Hitchcock began his NHL coaching career as an assistant in the 1990s and guided the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999. Sutter started out as assistant and head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks and later took the Calgary Flames to the 2004 Final.

The respect between the two is clear. Sutter, of course, isn't surprised by what Hitchcock has done with the Blues.

"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."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 4:40 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Quick is modest, but numbers make case for Vezina

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Those that have been around Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick know that getting him to talk about himself is not easy.

Quick is overly modest and prefers to frame individual accomplishment in a team context, and he was no different after his nomination for the Vezina Trophy was announced Wednesday.

"It's something that a lot of hard work has been put into and it kind of goes to credit the way these guys played in front of me all year," Quick said. "Being a goaltender is a position that you're more dependent on your teammate than any other position in sports. For your goalie to be put in a category like that, these guys are doing a tremendous job, which they've done for me all year."

Modesty aside, Quick clearly established himself this season and, at 26, is already considered among the top goalies in club history.

He led the NHL with 10 shutouts, was second in goals-against average at 1.95 and tied for fifth in save percentage (.929), which were all Kings' single-season records. He is the first Kings goalie to win 30 games (35 this season) for three straight seasons.

Quick had three straight shutouts from Oct. 18-22 and ran a consecutive scoreless streak to 202 minutes, 11 seconds. Quick was the foundation of a Kings team that failed to provide him offense. There were five games in which Quick allowed one goal and still lost, including back-to-back 1-0 losses on Feb. 16-18.

"It's kind of like a pitcher that gets no run support," Colin Fraser said. "He did his job. We've got to do ours. Those are the games where he doesn't get those wins in the win column."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter has said that a goaltender has to win 40 games in order to win the Vezina. But Sutter said Thursday that Quick's other numbers provide argument for the nod. Quick was second to Brian Elliott of St. Louis in goals-against average.

"If you look at the big picture, he's the only guy that's either first or second to Elliott in three or four [categories] and Elliott's ahead of him in one other one," Sutter said. "Honestly, for Quick, it's too bad [with] St. Louis you can't do a two-for-one. If it was, then it's probably the direction it's going."

Quick is the youngest of the three nominees and acknowledged so when he referenced Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Pekke Rinne of the Nashville Predators.

"It's a tremendous honor to be put in a category with Hank and Pekke," said Quick, who is 4-1 with a 1.59 GAA in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "They're two great goalies in this League, well-respected goalies … at the same time, though, it's not the trophy that I set out to win. We still have a shot at the other one."

No King has won the Vezina. Rogie Vachon and Gary Edwards were runners-up in 1975.

McDonald an X-factor:
Sutter acknowledged that there is an unknown factor with St. Louis in that his team did not see Andy McDonald in the regular season. Also, David Perron and Alexander Steen played only two games against L.A.

Sutter pointed to McDonald and Steen as factors.

"The two 1-0 games [on Feb. 3 and March 22] -- they didn't play either game, so obviously it fortifies the first or second line," Sutter said. "They're able to play [David] Backes, [T.J.] Oshie and McDonald, Steen and [Patrik] Berglund. They're top guys … McDonald is probably real similar to Justin Williams. Both guys won the Cup … it's a pretty good matchup."

Sutter still prefers home:
Sutter is a stickler for routine and scheduling, and he spent the past two days talking about when his team might travel to St. Louis.

He pointed out that that is a product of not having home-ice advantage, and he didn't read much into the success that road teams are having in the postseason.

The Kings won three games in Vancouver and are on a franchise-record five-game road playoff winning streak. But don't tell that to Sutter.

"As you go along, that's all [meaningless]," Sutter said. "I know from the experience of it. The less travel you have, you want to be in your own building. It still [makes] a big difference. It's very simple. I'd rather be having players getting treated in our treatment centers and not in a hotel and not on an airplane, and getting practice in your own building."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 4:18 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Similarities between Kings, Blues are hard to ignore

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Judging by how most observers project the Western Conference Semifinals between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues to unfold, they might as well go straight to overtime.

The similarities are a big talking point leading up to the start of the series: two low-scoring teams that are designed by defense and goaltending to grind opponents down.

"Mirror image," Kings forward Dustin Penner said. "What were we, one and two in goals against [average] this year? The games are always close -- low-scoring, big forwards, tough team, great goaltending. For both teams you don't know who you're talking about."

Yes, St. Louis was first in the League with 1.89 GAA in the regular season to L.A.'s 2.07. The Kings won three of four regular season meetings, but the teams split the final two games, each by 1-0 scores.

Brian Elliott had a 0.71 GAA in two appearances against L.A. Jonathan Quick had a 0.33 GAA with 94 saves on 95 shots against the Blues. The Kings enter the series on a scoreless stretch of 130 minutes, 49 seconds against St. Louis, while the Blues have gone 96:22 without scoring against L.A. 

L.A. regards St. Louis as a much more physical, hard-nosed team. The teams combined for 86 hits in the March 22 game, a 1-0 shootout win by Los Angeles.

"They all play a heavy game and they all forecheck and hit and they're all hard on you," Kings forward Trevor Lewis said. "I think we've got to bring that to our game and push them back."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter said that the teams are similar statistically, but he again brought out the underdog card when asked if the Blues were a mirror image of the Kings.

"We didn't have as many wins as they did," Sutter said. "They won 30 games at home."

The Kings' quarterfinal victory against top-seeded Vancouver threw all conventional thinking out the window. So did the elimination of typical Western powers the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.
L.A. was also the team that pulled out two shorthanded goals in one game against Vancouver and outscored it, 7-5, overall in even-strength play.

"Everybody's asking me about how low-scoring it's going to be," Quick said. "But I think I'm sure if you looked back at postseason history and teams that matched up like this, I'm sure there's been quite a few games that have gone the other way, and games that people didn't really expect, 3-4, 4-5 games. When you get out there you can expect anything. You got to be ready for anything. It's all about who comes and competes the hardest."

Penner on the second line: Penner skated on the second line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in practice Tuesday, while Dwight King was dropped to the third line with Lewis and Jarret Stoll.

That's a significant change for a Sutter team that has used the same lines since the acquisition of Jeff Carter in February.

"We got to continue to move around," Sutter said. "We're lucky we've got guys that can play everywhere, so it's not like our left wing hasn't excelled five-on-five. We're trying to find stuff that works."

Kyle Clifford skated at the end of practice, an encouraging sign for the fourth-line winger who is trying to recover from a probable concussion.

Lewis a hero, too: While Stoll joined Adam Deadmarsh and Mike Krushelnyski as players to score series-clinching overtime goals in Kings history, Lewis made the play happen when he got the puck away from Dan Hamhuis.

A typical Sutter third-line grinder, Lewis has become a valuable role player and even contributed a goal in the Vancouver series. He said he received some attention after his play.

"I had a few more text messages after the game than normal and talked to a lot of people that I hadn't talked to in a while about it, so it was pretty cool," Lewis said.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 5:21 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Carter happy for rest, hopes play keeps improving

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Sitting around for three days is probably not the ideal routine in a Stanley Cup Playoff series unless a team needs to get healthy.

For Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter, the time is beneficial for healing his ankle and detrimental in that he’s coming off a good game and would have like to get back to playing sooner.

“I would have rather have played every other day,” Carter said Saturday before the Kings left for Vancouver for Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Sunday.

“But it can be good for us, I guess. We got some guys that are a little banged up – bumps and bruises or whatnot – so the extra couple days will definitely help in that way.”

A talking point at the beginning of the series, Carter and linemate Mike Richards each have no points with a minus-3 rating over the past three games.

Carter missed the last five regular season games with a bone bruise in his ankle and returned in time for the start of the series. He said the injury didn’t affect his performance.

“It’s been getting better every game, I think, so it’s not a big issue,” Carter said.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter was typically blunt when asked about what he’s seen from Carter lately.

“I think he’s playing through an injury and I think his last game was his best game,” Sutter said. “What are his strengths? His speed and puck skills. When you’re not playing quite 100 percent it does make a difference.”

Carter had a game-high seven shots on goal and four hits in Game 4. He looked as active and visible as he has in the series, and if he shows his scoring capability he will be the factor that Los Angeles wished for when they acquired him before the trade deadline.

“It was probably the best that I’ve felt in this series,” Carter said. “I was skating and getting on pucks. When you’re doing that, you’re creating chances, so it was a step in the right direction.”

Carter had six goals in 16 regular season games since he came to L.A. in a Feb.23 trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who got Jack Johnson and a first round draft pick in return. Outside of a two-goal game against the Anaheim Ducks on March 3, he really hasn’t had a signature game or goal of real significance.

Carter has also been quiet in recent playoffs. He is on a six-game point-less streak, dating to last postseason with Philadelphia.

Richards was also encouraged by Game 5 and knows what his former Philadelphia teammate is capable of doing.

“I talked to him after [Game 4],” Richards said. “He said he felt good. He’s said he it was the best he felt in a long time. Hopefully we can improve on it and get opportunities and chances and shots. He’s got a good enough a shot where the goalie can make the save once in a while but eventually it’s going to go in.”

Mitchell on Vancouver:
Defenseman Willie Mitchell is a knowledgeable source on how to defend the Canucks and he has served as a sort of analyst during the series.

Mitchell played four seasons with Vancouver and against them in the Northwest Division when he was with the Minnesota Wild. He had a detailed take on defending a “new” Canucks team with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

“Everyone has their own way or own belief of how you play them,” Mitchell said. “Personally, I think you deny them the puck, so that means when other players on their team have the puck, you make sure they don’t get it. So [it’s] meeting them before the puck gets there. If they get the puck, it’s not about eliminating time and space, in my opinion, because if you’re too aggressive against them there’s going to be ice open up in the middle of the ice, and that’s where it always goes.

“They make those blind passes and they just know. Their whole game is about creating 2-on-1s, just bringing the guy into you … so it’s a fine line – being aggressive when they don’t have it, and if they happen to get possession, sometimes you got to sit because they’re not Steven Stamkos. They don’t have that world class shot. But they are world-class playmakers.”

Sutter kept beating the drum that Game 4 was his team’s best game of the series and he reiterated that they’re still the underdog even though they have a 3-1 series lead.

He sounded as if he needed a lot more from his team.

“I liked our five-on-five play [in Game 4] but we’re not going to beat the Vancouver Canucks unless everybody plays to their (level) because of the skill set that they have,” Sutter said. “If we have three or four guys that don’t try to play to their skill set then we’re not going to beat them.”

Clifford remains out:
Kyle Clifford (upper body) did not skate for a third consecutive game, which all but rules him out from returning anytime soon.

Clifford was hit by Byron Bitz on Game 1. It is called an upper-body injury but the team is taking the same protocol they would for a concussion.
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