A quick glance at the St. Louis Blues roster shows everything a team typically needs to make a deep run at the Stanley Cup.
There is depth among their forwards and defensemen, and a strong balance between tough pluggers who can make plays along the boards and world-class skill players who can score. There also is a goaltender, Brian Elliott, who has been practically unbeatable through April.
But the Blues' greatest advantage heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs could very well be the man behind the bench. One Blues player, forward Andy McDonald, has won a Stanley Cup, and defenseman Jordan Leopold, obtained at the NHL Trade Deadline, is the other player to skate in a Stanley Cup Final. This is where Ken Hitchcock's 1999 Cup win with the Dallas Stars could prove invaluable.
Since taking over the Blues early in the 2011-12 season, Hitchcock has transformed the club into one of the toughest opponents in the League. Last season, the Blues were very difficult to play against, riding hot goaltending, stifling defense and offensive depth in steamrolling the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. That all came apart in the second round against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. But the experience the team gained in that run -- complemented by some of the adversity it's had to deal with this season -- has made the Blues stronger.
What's more, this team's young core could be rounding into shape at the perfect time.
Forwards Chris Stewart, Patrik Berglund and Alex Steen have enjoyed tremendous bounce-back seasons, and Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk have developed into elite defensemen. If rookie forward Vladimir Tarasenko regains his early-season scoring form and T.J. Oshie returns from injury, this roster should be able to compete with anybody.
Considering their great depth, the Blues success could ultimately be decided by the play of their goaltenders. Elliott and Jaroslav Halak have enjoyed stretches during which they've demonstrated a clear-cut ability to win games. Elliott has been practically unbeatable through the last month of the regular season, and Halak -- close to returning from a lower-body injury -- carried the Montreal Canadiens to the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals.
If all these pieces come together, this team has what it takes to win the Stanley Cup in 2013, delivering St. Louis its first championship.
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