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Posted On Sunday, 05.06.2012 / 2:58 PM

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

Lineups for Kings-Blues Game 4

St. Louis is expected to bring in Ryan Reaves on the fourth line, in place of B.J. Crombeen, and Ian Cole on defense in place of Carlo Colaiacovo.

Cole practiced with Kevin Shattenkirk while Alex Pietrangelo was with Barret Jackman in practice, although that could change. Cole and Shattenkirk have played together on U.S. developmental under-17 and under-18 world junior teams.

Brian Elliott will take the net again after he allowed four goals in Game 3. He is 0-3 with a 3.75 goals-against average and .845 save percentage in the series. Coach Ken Hitchcock on Saturday declined to talk about Elliott bouncing back.

"I don't want to go there," Hitchcock said.

Chris Stewart voiced his support behind Elliott.

"He had one bad game and he's battled for us all year," Stewart said. "If it wasn't for him or [Jaroslav Halak] we wouldn't be in the position we are this year. I don't think one bad game is going to sum up our year. We're going to battle for him."

BLUES

Andy McDonald - David Backes - Matt D'Agostini
Alexander Steen - Patrik Berglund - T.J. Oshie
David Perron - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Alex Pietrangelo - Barret Jackman
Ian Cole - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

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

Drew Doughty - Rob Scuderi
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Matt Greene - Alec Martinez

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
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Posted On Saturday, 05.05.2012 / 7:02 PM

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

Hitchcock to alter Blues' lineup for Game 4

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – If the St. Louis Blues can't go through the Los Angeles Kings, they will try to go around them.

Ryan Reaves
Right Wing - STL
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 0
SOG: 1 | +/-: 0
That's sort of the reason that St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock will tinker with his lineup again in the Western Conference Semifinals. Hitchcock said Saturday that he will insert Ryan Reaves on the fourth line and Ian Cole on defense for Game 4 on Sunday at Staples Center.

Reaves will likely replace B.J. Crombeen, while Cole will come in for Carlo Colaiacovo.

"More size, more speed – keep pulling speed into the lineup and it works," Hitchcock said. [Matt D'Agostini] was good. Obviously, [Chris Stewart] was good. [Reaves] brings more speed, more size and just keep trying to get better. ... We're close. The last game was our best game. Hopefully tomorrow will be even better."
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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 7:28 PM

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

Blues struggle against team that mirrors them

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The series has played out the way Blues coach Ken Hitchcock envisioned in that his team is running into a Kings club that has been dialed in since late February-early March.

L.A. had to come on like gangbusters just to get the eighth seed, and now the Kings' grinding style is perfectly suited for the playoffs against a team that plays the same way.

"I think we're getting done to us what we've done to teams all year," Hitchcock said. "I think we're getting it done to us. It's how do we react to this now?

"Everybody that watched the West saw this coming around 65-66 games. I think we all saw this coming. We saw it before we got here. The game 75 [on March 22] that was here was better than any of these games of these playoffs so far. We were on top of it. They were on top of it. It ended up 0-0 (the Kings won 1-0 in a shootout). … When we left the Staples Center we all said, 'Man, whoever gets that team in the playoffs got their hands full.'"

Said forward Jamie Langenbrunner," They're playing a very sound, smart, controlled game. They're forcing us to make mistakes and we've been the one to crack in every game -- and that's kind of been our calling card all year."

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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 7:23 PM

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

Blues look for answers to keep season alive

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- St. Louis held an optional skate and most players practiced as the task at hand crystalizes for the Blues.

It's not only that they've lost games, but the way in which they've gone down is disturbing. St. Louis has not led this series since the first period of Game 1, and coach Ken Hitchcock had a telling quote about being in that unfamiliar position.

"We're not built for coming from behind all the time," Hitchcock said.

St. Louis seemed to take back Game 3 when it tied it at 1 at the start of the second period, but then disintegrated with more undisciplined play and poor goaltending and fell behind by two goals.

"When we do find ourselves playing from behind we tend to do things that are uncharacteristic of us and dig ourselves in a deeper hole," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said.

"We've only played with the lead once in the series and that was short lived. I think we've been a really good team all year playing with the lead. There's no reason things will change now. We just got to find a way to get that lead and carry some sort of positive momentum our way."

The Blues were still at a loss to explain the undisciplined play. They took roughing and slashing penalties in the first period of Game 3 and failed to make Los Angeles retaliate.

Getting a lead in Game 4 would help, but staying at even strength would also go a long way toward extending this series.

"It's huge," Colaiacovo said. "We keep shooting ourselves in the foot by giving then all the momentum. In a series like this we've got to find better ways to control our emotions and make sure we do stay out of the box. Those are some key moments in the game where we took some questionable penalties. Our discipline has to be a lot better in all areas of the game."

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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 3:40 PM

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

Kings want road success to translate to home ice

LOS ANGELES -- In order to feel more like home, the Kings are staying in a hotel downtown and practically treating Thursday like a road game.

L.A. hardly ever has a morning skate at Staples Center, which also hosts the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. But coach Darryl Sutter wanted his players get more familiar with their game rink. The Kings have not played at home since April 18, more than two weeks ago.

"I haven't been downtown very much," Sutter quipped when asked about changing the routine.

L.A.'s home record isn't a laughing matter, though. The Kings, whose 5-0 road playoff record matches the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning, are only 1-1 at home in the playoffs. They were 22-14-5 at Staples Center in the regular season, which ranked 19th in the League.

"I personally liked it," Jarret Stoll said. "The ice is a little bit different than our practice facility so it's good to get on the ice, get your edges going and just snapping the puck around in a kind of a familiar setting. I don't mind it."

Sutter on Doughty:
Sutter had an interesting take on Drew Doughty, who seems to elevate his game for the postseason after a somewhat quiet regular season.

Doughty, 22, is known for his offensive dynamic, and Sutter said the other part of his game can come around.

"I think he's learning how to be better defensively," Sutter said. "I'm not saying he's miscast or anything like that, but for a kid that plays that many minutes, it was probably forced on him a little bit. … He has all the natural ability … it's just a matter of knowing when to use it and when not to use it. From a defensive standpoint, he's probably got a long ways to go."

Sutter added that, "From my standpoint … I think that he's just scratching the offensive part of it -- when to use it and how to use it."
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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 Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 11:30 AM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Hitchcock rules Halak out for rest of series

ST. LOUIS -- Not only did the St. Louis Blues lose the first two games on home ice in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings, but coach Ken Hitchcock ruled after Game 2 that goalie Jaroslav Halak would not be available for the remainder of the series.

Halak, who started for the Blues when the playoffs began, has a lower-body injury that he suffered in Game 2 of the conference quarterfinals against San Jose when he collided with teammate Barret Jackman early in the second period.

Halak has been skating off and on by himself ever since and before the series with the Kings began, Hitchcock ruled Halak out for Games 1 and 2 and said they would "go from there" as the series progressed.

Hitchcock was asked at the end of his post-game press conference Monday night if Halak would be available for Game 3 Thursday night in Los Angeles.

"No," Hitchcock replied.

Asked if he would be available as a backup, the coach said before departing, "No … Jaro's out for the series. He won't play in the series."

So the Blues will move forward with Brian Elliott, who allowed five goals on 21 shots in Game 2, as the starter and rookie Jake Allen as the backup.

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Posted On Monday, 04.30.2012 / 2:58 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Greene's shorthanded goal a hit in Kings' room

ST. LOUIS -- There was a buzz around the Los Angeles Kings' locker room Saturday and the last couple days in the aftermath of defenseman Matt Greene's shorthanded goal in Game 1.

"It's a little rare that he ever crosses the blue line," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty joked about Greene. "But that's what playoffs [are] about. Getting a little from every single guy on your team and to see a guy like him score in the playoffs, all of us were so happy for him and it just gave us a boost."

The Kings have three shorthanded goals [Dustin Brown with two goals and an assist has been a part of all three of them], which matches their power play output in the postseason.

"We don't want to give them any time and space," Doughty said of the PK. "If good players have that space, they're going to find the seams and the open guy backdoor for an easy tap-in. We're definitely very aggressive on the penalty kill. We're blocking shots and that's kind of the motto of our team.

"It's been working out great for us. That aggressive style makes guys on the back-end panic when guys go 100 miles an hour at them. You're going to panic with the puck a little bit and with ice conditions and stuff like that, pucks are going to bounce over your stick or whatever it may be. Brownie's been doing a great job of reading those opportunities and it's been a big part to our playoff season so far."

Greene's goal broke a 1-1 tie late in the second period and propelled the Kings to a 3-1 victory.
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Posted On Monday, 04.30.2012 / 2:54 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

D'Agostini in as Blues make lineup changes

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues will make a couple changes to their lineup heading into Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

Coach Ken Hitchcock has decided to flip his top two centers for tonight's game, meaning David Backes will now be between Andy McDonald and Alex Steen, while Patrik Berglund will once again join David Perron and T.J. Oshie.

Also, Matt D'Agostini will replace Chris Stewart in the lineup on the third line.

When asked what he's looking for, Hitchcock said, "More o-zone time, better o-zone play, more tenacity on the puck, more reckless. We've made the switch before short-term and it's worked.

"We just feel like we need a different energy. I just think for us to win the series ... they're a big team, they're a physical, big team, and we need to play with more tempo, more speed throughout our lineup. This allows us to play that way the way it's built. With switching the lines there with D'Agostini, it gives us more speed. We just want to see how it looks because for me, they're a team that wears you down. We need to make them spend more time in their zone more than they want."

Oshie, Perron and Berglund are no strangers to playing together. They're Blues first-round draft picks who came up through the organization together and are close as well off the ice.

"There's going to be a lot of energy," Oshie said. "We've been through a lot together away from the rink, at the rink. We've been here from the start for all of us ... Perry was here a year earlier, but it seems like we all kind of grew up together and we've got this sense of closeness.

"... We've got those young legs, as Walt [Keith Tkachuk] used to say. I think we compliment each other well. I need to bring more intensity and as much intensity as I can into those two; try to carry it along with me, because when both of them have their feet moving, they're hard to stop."

D'Agostini has only dressed in one postseason game [Game 2 of the first round against San Jose] and is looking forward to providing a boost.

"Just go out there, try to get involved early and get into the game as quick as possible," D'Agostini said. "... Any time after a loss, a change could spark the guys.

"It's been tough watching. You know you always feel like you can contribute. Me personally, I feel like I can help this team win. I'm happy to be back in there and looking forward to tonight."

Hitchcock said it's nothing against Stewart, who's pointless in five playoff games.

"I'm not unhappy with Stewy at all," Hitchcock said. "I think he's been fine for me, but we just feel like we would like to play with more speed in our lineup ... number one, and number two is we want to have a different look on one of the power-play units and that's where Dags excels. ... We'd like to see him get some PP time if we get there. He's very effective at where he goes. He's a guy that's willing to stand in there and absorb the shot."

With Backes, it gives him a different perspective with two more skill guys and he can continue to be more responsible defensively.

"Those guys are supremely talented and I'm hoping to be a supporting piece to it, take care of the defensive zone and let their offensive instincts and their skill show up," Backes said of McDonald and Steen. "If we can do that, those guys will have great nights and we'll have a great night as a team."
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Posted On Monday, 04.30.2012 / 1:42 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Projected Game 2 lineups

ST. LOUIS -- Here are the probable lineups for Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues from Scottrade Center:

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 Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier

Forwards Kyle Clifford (concussion) and Scott Parse (hip) once again sit out. Healthy scratches include forwards Andrei Loktionov and Kevin Westgarth as well as defenseman Davis Drewiske, all of whom sat out Game 1.

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

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

Brian Elliott
Jake Allen

Goalie Jaroslav Halak (lower body) is still out for Game 2 and Pietrangelo (undisclosed injury) will be a gametime decision. Healthy scratches include forwards Chris Stewart, Ryan Reaves, Chris Porter and Jaden Schwartz along with defensemen Kent Huskins and Cole will be a healthy scratch if Pietrangelo plays.
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Posted On Sunday, 04.29.2012 / 12:00 AM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

NHL statement on Dwight King hit

Kay Whitmore, NHL supervisor of officiating for Blues-Kings series, answered questions from a pool reporter on the hit by Kings' forward Dwight King on St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo in the second period. King was assessed a minor penalty on the play:

Q: What did the officials see on Dwight King's hit, and what went into the decision to give King a two-minute minor?

Whitmore:
Their judgment of the degree of violence ... they deemed it a minor penalty and that's why they called it a minor. It's their judgment. They see the whole play unfold and they didn't deem in this instance obviously that King drove [Pietrangelo] into the boards. It was a hit, he was in a vulnerable position, but they didn't deem it violent enough to call a major."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 2:51 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Blues and Kings ready for new challenge

ST. LOUIS -- Both the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings are perfect on the road in these playoffs, but for the Blues, they have home ice and were one of the best teams at Scottrade Center this season with a 30-5-6 regular season record and two wins and an overtime loss against San Jose in the first round.

But the Kings won all three games at Rogers Arena against the Vancouver Canucks, who won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's regular-season champions.

"We were a pretty confident group going in," Brown said of the road success. "I think a lot of players have been in this room for a while, have been playing together for a while.

"We understood the situation we were in and we understand the type of team we have. Knocking off the top seed Vancouver obviously adds a little bit of confidence, but I think we all understand that St. Louis is a different type of beast and it's going to be a hard series.

"They're just a different team than Vancouver. We found a way to be successful against Vancouver and now it's a new challenge. There's different things that we have to do to be successful against the Blues. A lot of it comes down to work. That's the one thing you can control, which is a good thing. To beat a team like St. Louis, you've got to be willing to do all those little things on every single play."

The Blues hope to be as relentless as the Kings are advertising them to be.

"Just a strong defensive game like we had all year and in the San Jose series," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "We're going to really have to work for our chances, throw everything we can on net and get second chances. It's going to be predictable hockey from both sides, a hard-fought series and it's going to start right from the first drop of the puck."

Added veteran center Jason Arnott: "We just can't get out of our element. We have to stick to our system. You can't get frustrated, that's the biggest thing. We know we're going up against a great defense and a great goaltender. They play a solid defensive game. It's going to be tough and frustration's going to creep in here or there, but we just have to stick to our system and play to our game plan and keep funneling pucks as much as we can and hopefully a few go in for us."

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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 2:03 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Players eager to get started

ST. LOUIS -- As has been the case all week, both the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings are eager and anxious to begin their playoff series.

There's only so much the respective teams can do in practice and only so much a team can do to simulate what their opponent is going to do.

From a rest standpoint, getting a week off for St. Louis and six days off for L.A. was a blessing. But from a game standpoint, since both teams went 4-1 in their first-round series, players remain cautious about any rust that may have developed during that time off.

"You look at Nashville last night, they came out a little slow," Blues winger Chris Stewart said. "We've definitely got to get out there and get on our toes and take it to them. We have to show why we can use home ice advantage."

Added Blues winger Andy McDonald: "We've had some rest, a lot of practice and it gives you a lot more time. We knew before they did when we would be playing and who we'd be playing against. It gives guys a little bit more time to recover, we've got some bumps and bruises but I think we're ready to go. It's been kind of a long layoff. I think guys are pretty anxious."

The Kings agreed.

"You want to play. You watch games on TV," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "Getting some rest obviously is important. Both teams had ample time to get ready, both physically and mentally. Guys are ready to go now."

Added Kings center Mike Richards: "I don't think there's much of a process. I think you just get excited. A week looking at tape, a week of practicing... it doesn't take much to get out there and you feel the excitement.

"Coming here this morning, I think there's a lot of excitement. Finally gameday's come. I don't think there's going to be much of an amping-up process."

Watching the Predators and Phoenix Coyotes Friday night definitely made players eager to get started.

"It's been a long week," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "There's been a lot of practice, a lot of things that we've gone over but at the same time, we're excited to get this thing going and jump into it. Watching the game last night gives you that itch to get things started."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 1:45 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Backes-Kopitar matchup a highlight of this series

ST. LOUIS -- As the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings finally lace the skates and begin what is expected to be a hard-hitting, hard-nosed and physical Western Conference Semifinals, two players quite familiar with one another will get re-acclimated shortly after at the drop of the puck Saturday night.

The Blues' David Backes and the Kings' Anze Kopitar will see a lot of ice time together, and they'll be in each other's way more times than they might care to see but both will be faced with the challenge of overcoming what the other has to bring.

Backes is the Blues' checking specialist and just got done engaging with San Jose's Joe Thornton in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. It will be contrasting styles when going up against Kopitar and his linemates.

"Joe's a little bit bigger of a body, but I think Kopitar's got a speed element ... he's one of the fastest guys in the league," said Backes, who finished with one point in five games against the Sharks. "If you've seen me skate, I'm not.

"There's a physical element on my side that needs to balance out his speed. It's not one-on-one. We're not out there playing one-on-one on a full sheet [of ice]. I've got linemates [David Perron and T.J. Oshie] and he's got linemates [Dustin Brown and Justin Williams] helping him. I think the collective unit needs to be better than their collective unit and we'll see if that happens."

Kopitar, who saw a lot of Vancouver's Ryan Kesler in their quarterfinal series, had a goal and three assists in five games. He expects a different challenge facing Backes but is quite familiar with it.

"It's going to be a physical game," Kopitar said. "I have seen him quite a bit over the last couple seasons. It's nothing new. I'm sure the intensity's going to be high and I'm sure it's going to be a physical game.

"I don't think [Kings coach] Darryl [Sutter] was too big on matchups even the first series. He was rotating lines and was pretty much going with his feeling on whoever was going. ... We're going to come out, we're going to have to play. If the matchups are important to them, they're probably going to match it since we're here. For us, we just have to go out and play."

Brown was a teammate of Backes' at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"Just a big, straight-line body ... he does a lot of the little things right," Brown said of Backes. "You don't see him change his game too much. That's why he's probably successful on a nightly basis. He's big, he's strong and he knows a straight-line game, physical ... he's just hard to play against in general."

Sutter is equally as impressed with Backes.

"He's one of the really good young captains in the League," Sutter said. "I think he has an identity and it's a strong one. He plays both sides of the puck, plays a 200-foot game. We're lucky we have a couple centermen like that, too, so hopefull we can saw that off a little."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock would like to see more offense from the Backes line, which collected two goals and five assists but understands their commitment to defending playing with a lead the majority of the last series.

"The first thing he has to do is trust his linemates a little more and secondly he's got to play more reckless," Hitchcock said. "He played safe ... and playing against Joe is no day at the beach. Joe was dialed in and Joe was playing for his life. He was a terrific player in our series, so David had his hands full. The other thing is, sometimes 5-on-5 with as much as David plays on the power play and he kills penalties, sometimes 5-on-5 is a rest and we want to get him past that, where he's really contributing more 5-on-5 because he's back playing a little more reckless and not so careful. He plays reckless on the power play, which is great, it helps us. He's obviously a great penalty killer. We just want him to trust his linemates and not have to be the safety net that he thinks he has to be all the time."

Added Backes: "It's kind of situational, who you're out against, time of the game, score of the game ... that kind of dictates it. Luckily in the series against San Jose, we were faced with leads and just protecting them and making sure we took care of mostly in the defensive side.

"There's going to be times in tie games when you need a goal and we're going to have to wade it on the other side. There's a balance there that needs to be found; I don't think it was perfect in the first round. It was good, but we need to be great in order to win this series."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 12:49 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Projected Game 1 lineups

ST. LOUIS -- Here are the probable lineups for Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues from Scottrade Center:

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 Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier

Forwards Kyle Clifford [concussion] and Scott Parse [hip] will not play. Healthy scratches include forwards Andrei Loktionov and Kevin Westgarth as well as defenseman Davis Drewiske.

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund - Alex Steen
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner - Scott Nichol - B.J. Crombeen

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

Brian Elliott
Jake Allen

Goalie Jaroslav Halak [lower-body] will not be available for Games 1 and 2 but has been skating and is progressing. Healthy scratches include forwards Matt D'Agostini, Ryan Reaves, Chris Porter and Jaden Schwartz along with defensemen Kent Huskins and Ian Cole.
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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 Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 3:20 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Blues endured wait to learn when series would start

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As the St. Louis Blues prepare for the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings, the element of surprise was when it would all get started.

Both teams had to wait for the NHL to release at least a partial schedule, which came Wednesday, to have a better idea when to mentally and physically prepare for the start of the series.

It's tougher for the Kings, who traveled to St. Louis Thursday for Games 1 and 2. But as much as they want to practice, the Blues also were looking for a better idea of when to really get the game preparation underway.

"It's the first go for a lot of guys without knowing the starting date; I think that was the bigger distraction," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Having the down time, knowing when you're starting, players can plan their week. Not knowing in the first practices what day we were going was a little bit of a concern for everybody because you didn't know when to amp it up, how much to amp it up. You didn't have any idea.

"Once we got down [Wednesday] and we knew it was Saturday, then you saw even a bigger focus today. We had a very good focus today at practice."

For the players, staying even-keeled is key.

"You've just got to keep telling yourself that it's going to happen, just keep working every day," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "I can't remember when we've practiced this many days in a row except training camp. This time of year, you just want to be playing hockey. I think we're all ready right now."

Now a plan can be put in place.

"I think we we knew it was going to come Friday or Saturday from the start," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We've been getting some stuff done for L.A., but today and tomorrow are kind of the key days of practicing and getting ready for them.

"Now that there's a set day, we know it's going to be Saturday, it's a little nicer to plan your week out and get ready."


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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 3:18 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Halak ruled out for first two games against Kings

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (lower body) skated before Thursday's practice and is progressing, according to coach Ken Hitchcock, but is still ruled out for Games 1 and 2 of the series.

"He skated before the team at practice," said Hitchcock, who announced Halak not being available early because he didn't want it to be a distraction. "He's getting better. Not ready for the first two games, so we'll just see from there. ... We've got our two goalies and away we go."
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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 Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 12:06 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Barry Melrose breaks down Kings-Blues

As a one-time player, coach and broadcaster, who better to size up the second-round matchup between the Kings and Blues than Barry Melrose? Never mind the fact that he was Los Angeles’ head coach for three seasons, guiding them to the 1993 Stanley Cup Final. In his latest video, Barry breaks down a series between two teams that share some interesting similarities.

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 4:28 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

GM of the Year finalist Armstrong rebuilt Blues

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Doug Armstrong was on a mission to get the St. Louis Blues back on track.

It was a bit of a rocky start at the outset, but ultimately with a few changes and some tweaks to a roster chalk full of younger talent, the Blues were able to persevere.

And on Tuesday, the NHL announced that Armstrong, along with Florida's Dale Tallon and Nashville's David Poile are the finalists for the 2012 General Manager of the Year Award.

Armstrong became the 11th GM in Blues history on July 1, 2010, and is in his second full season.

Since taking the reins in 2010-11, Armstrong has orchestrated several additions to the club, including trading for Jaroslav Halak, Kevin Shattenkirk, Kris Russell and Chris Stewart while also signing veteran free agents Jason Arnott, Brian Elliott, Kent Huskins, Jamie Langenbrunner and Scott Nichol to mix in with that youth core.

The moves helped the Blues go from ninth to second in the Western Conference this season.

"It's certainly a great honor to be in there with David Poile and Dale Tallon, two guys who have done a tremendous job this season," Armstrong said. "It's certainly something that we cherish here as an organization.

"I sort of look at the Jennings Trophy as accepted by the goaltenders, but it's a team award. I think the manager of the year is really the ultimate team award from the work that the players and the scouts and coaches do. It's verification almost of an organizational award."

This season, the Blues posted their first 100-point campaign (49-22-11, 109 points) since 2001 and their first playoff series win since 2002 when they defeated the San Jose Sharks in five games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The club broke or tied 13 franchise records in 2011-12, including a 21-game home points streak and 30 home wins overall, which is a franchise record. Overall, the Blues have gone 87-55-22 in the last two seasons, tying for 11th best in the NHL under Armstrong, who now becomes the team's biggest fan since the GMs can't make any more deals or transactions.

"You're here to lend support to the training staff, the coaching staff and the players," Armstrong said. "Really after the trade deadline, the job is done and as we say, you hope you haven't messed up things too much. You just move forward and you support the guys. Ultimately, the players have done a tremendous job right from training camp on. We got off to a little bit of a rocky start, but they were able to right that ship. I enjoy watching them go through this."

That rocky start included a 6-7 run that saw Armstrong make arguably his boldest move when he fired Davis Payne and brought in Ken Hitchcock to get back on track.

"Doug's a smart hockey guy," Hitchcock said. "I think his strength for me is, he trusts his people but he asks for information and really listens. He has a core group of guys, Army asks a lot of questions, he doesn't do anything without being very thorough and he's been that way since he worked in Dallas. That's his real strength, he's not afraid to ask questions, and if he doesn't feel like he's 100 percent, he's going to ask a lot of questions to get the right answers. He's very, very thorough. And he understands from the Dallas days what a good team feels like. The balance between veterans and young people, the necessary element to have on your team to demand the young players play accordingly."

Before joining the Blues, Armstrong spent 17 years with the Dallas Stars organization and his final six seasons as the club's GM. He was a part of the Stars’ organization since the club moved to Dallas in 1993 and helped lead the franchise to two Presidents' Trophies, two Western Conference titles and the 1999 Stanley Cup.

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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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Quote of the Day

I kept refreshing the page on the NHL website after the second round and I was shocked he lasted that long. I'm sure the Coyotes were pretty happy to get him. He's such a good player and he plays big in big games.

— Arizona Coyotes forward Henrik Samuelsson on prospect Edgars Kulda being draftedd