The Kings beating the Canucks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs was a big surprise -- but it wasn't a surprise to me. I pegged L.A. to win against the Presidents' Trophy winners and sure enough, here are the Kings in Round 2 instead of Vancouver.
But I did not think the Kings would beat the Blues.
St. Louis has looked like one of the strongest teams in the League all season to me ever since Ken Hitchcock took over, and I expected the Blues to be able to move on to the Western Conference Finals and maybe win the West, but after dropping Game 1 to the Kings on Saturday -- and not in a fluky way -- it's starting to look like the Blues could be in trouble, and they'll be in serious trouble if they wind up losing Game 2 Monday night.
I was surprised Saturday at how well L.A. handled St. Louis physically. St. Louis is a team that prides itself on being able to beat you up physically and battling physically, but I didn't see that in Game 1 against L.A. I saw at best a draw on the physical side of the game, and at worst for St. Louis, I thought maybe the Kings were the more physical team. That wasn't supposed to happen, so I think that's certainly something that has shocked St. Louis and that will have to change if they're going to turn the series around in Game 2 and once it goes to California.
I went into this series thinking, "Yeah, L.A. beat Vancouver, but I don't think Vancouver was nearly as good as St. Louis." I left the game thinking the Kings could beat the Blues -- probably for the first time this year.
Saturday night, everything clicked for L.A. Anze Kopitar was excellent, Dustin Brown started the play that led to the shorthanded goal with a strong move and Jonathan Quick, as always, was unbelievable. What's more is I really liked the L.A. defense. It's a very unknown group aside from Drew Doughty, but it's very good -- and very big. Matt Greene is 6-foot-3, Alec Martinez is 6-1, Doughty is 6-0 and Willie Mitchell is 6-3. That's a big defense, and they can handle that St. Louis forecheck. I was very impressed with the Kings in Game 1, even more so than I was in the series against Vancouver. Against the Canucks, I thought Quick won that series with his play, but Saturday night the Kings were every bit as good as the Blues.
If the Blues want to even the series Monday night and find a way to advance to the conference finals, they need to find a way to get to Quick. Vancouver was only able to do that once, so it's a tall order. When the Blues see the tape, they'll see they need that second shot on Quick to go upstairs. Quick is a butterfly goaltender.
Andy McDonald's chances in the first period of Game 1 were a prime example. McDonald had three chances and he hit the pads with all three shots. That second shot has to go under the bar, because Quick has those legs down on the ice taking away the bottom of the rink. You're not going to score against him down on the ice. The next one's got to go upstairs, so I think that's one thing the Blues can take out of it.
Also, they'll need to score some ugly goals. You're not going to score beautiful goals on Quick, so you've got to get in front of him, screen him and top it in, just like the Blues' first goal in Game 1. Quick never saw that shot. It hit Perron's stick, went up a little bit, and he just never saw it. That's how you've got to score on a great goaltender like Quick.
Every few years a goalie goes on a remarkable run and takes a team to the conference finals or beyond. It happened in 2010 with Jaroslav Halak in Montreal and it happened in 2003 with Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Anaheim. There's a chance we could be seeing that right now in the West with Quick and Mike Smith in Phoenix. This is a pair of teams riding hot goaltenders, which could easily lead them to the Cup Final.
The difference with L.A., however, and perhaps the reason St. Louis should be most concerned, is that it's not just Quick on that team. The Kings have to score goals for Quick and they've got a good cast of characters. I love their defense, I think Kopitar and Dustin Brown have been great, and you add in Jeff Carter and Justin Williams and that's a heck of a hockey team. The Kings have a great top two lines and they've got some great bangers and crashers on the third and fourth line.
In Game 1, the Kings looked like they really came into their own, and they have a deep lineup that can cause a lot of problems for the Blues when St. Louis isn't able to play its physical game. The Blues may be in for a bigger challenge than they expected in Round 2. And if St. Louis can't salvage a split at home tonight, it could be panic time for the top remaining seed in the West.