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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

[He's] real confident with the puck now, getting it off his stick quick and no second-guessing. We need that. He's such a good guy in the room. He works so hard. That's the big thing. For not a big man, he just fights for every puck and when he scores, the guys appreciate that even more.

— Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice on Mathieu Perreault, who scored two goals in win against Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday