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Blues vs Kings

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Blues vs Kings - 2013 SCP Conference Quarterfinals

Five Questions: Goalies, youth among Blues' issues

Tal Pinchevsky - Staff Writer

St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong set his plan to win a Stanley Cup in motion by stockpiling a number of strong young players before handing them to coach Ken Hitchcock early last season.

Brian Elliott
Goalie - STL
RECORD: 14-8-1
GAA: 2.28 | SVP: 0.907

When the Blues closed January with a 6-1-0 record and a goal differential of plus-13, they appeared to be the team to beat. But they followed that run with five straight losses, showing that even a shortened NHL season has its share of ups and downs.

Now that the Blues have punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and are ready to start the second season, here are five important questions to consider as they look to capture the Cup for the first time in franchise history:

Why the Blues will win the Stanley Cup

Tal Pinchevsky - Staff Writer

A quick glance at the St. Louis Blues roster shows everything a team typically needs to make a deep run at the Stanley Cup.

Ken Hitchcock's savvy behind the bench could prove to be invaluable for a young Blues team looking to make a Stanley Cup run. (Photo: Getty Images)

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 Stanley Cup 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.

X-Factor: Schwartz adds energy, scoring for Blues

Tal Pinchevsky - Staff Writer

In the final week of the regular season, as St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock cited the compressed NHL schedule as one reason for his team's sudden bout with fatigue, he acknowledged one player among his forward group who was helping provide some energy.

Jaden Schwartz
Left Wing - STL
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 6 | PTS: 13
SOG: 50 | +/-: -4
"When you see a guy like [Jaden] Schwartz, he's been tremendous the last two games. We need more like that. We need more compete," Hitchcock said after his team's 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars on April 19. "Our forwards have looked really tired. We've got a week to keep winning hockey games and find a way to re-energize ourselves up front."

The next game, Hitchcock rewarded the rookie's energy by playing him 15:45 in a 5-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Enjoying his highest ice-time total in almost seven weeks, the 20-year-old didn't let his coach down, blasting a shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere in the second period to cut the Avalanche lead to 3-2. Playing alongside captain David Backes, Schwartz has shown flashes of the skill that compelled St. Louis to select him No. 14 in the 2010 NHL Draft.

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