|The St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings appear to be mirror images of each other.
Their hard-edged veteran coaches preach a defense-first structure and both teams rely on their stellar goaltenders.
Dig a bit deeper and both teams have two strong scoring lines and stout, physical defenses that make life a bit easier for their goalies.
Each also advanced to the second round in five games, but here is where a bit of a difference shows itself -- one was expected, while the other came in a historic upset.
The second-seeded Blues won four straight after losing Game 1 to the Sharks, while the eighth-seeded Kings jumped to a stunning 3-0 series lead on the defending Western Conference champion Canucks and eliminated them in overtime in Game 5.
When teams this close play each other, it could easily come down to special teams. While the Blues might have had the better statistics, the Kings' power play and penalty kill seemed to come up with big plays at just the right times.
About the only thing you can be sure of is this series likely won't have the scoring pyrotechnics of the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series in the first round, but if you're a connoisseur of defensive hockey, this could be a series to remember.
|St. Louis managed to get past the Sharks in the first round without much impact from their top line of David Backes, T.J. Oshie and David Perron, which contributed just two goals in the first round. However, that trio combined for 64 goals in the regular season, so the odds are in their favor for a turnaround. |
Supplying the offense in the first round was the second line of Patrik Berglund, Alexander Steen and Andy McDonald, which combined for eight goals, including a pair of game-winners.
McDonald was the Blues' best offensive player in the series, scoring goals in four of the five games, including the game-winner in Game 4.
The Blues also got solid contributions from their depth forwards. Veterans Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner each had a goal. Vladimir Sobotka started the Blues rolling in Game 2, and B.J. Crombeen opened the scoring in Game 4.
|Dustin Brown stepped up in a big way in the first round, scoring a team-high four goals -- including two shorthanded -- leading the team with 25 shots, and throwing his body around to register a team-high 21 hits. His line, with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, was the Kings' best in the first round. Kopitar had a goal and three assists, while Williams had four assists. |
A second line that features proven playoff performers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter also is a scary proposition for the opposition. Richards had a goal and two assists in Game 1, while Carter looks to finally be finding his stride after missing two weeks before the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a foot injury.
Jarrett Stoll scored a pair of goals against the Canucks, and both were game-winners, including the series-clinching overtime goal in Game 5. He also won a team-best 58.3-percent of his faceoffs.
|The blue line balances high-end offensive talents in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, and tough defensive-minded players like Barret Jackman and Roman Polak. |
Polak made his impact late in Game 2, when he squared off with the Sharks' Justin Braun, leading an impressed coach Ken Hitchcock to say, "You found out, don't open the Roman Polak door. Don't ever open that door."
Polak mans the third pairing, with Kris Russell. The Blues will continue to lean heavily on Pietrangelo and Carlo Colaiacovo on the top pair. Pietrangelo continued his breakout season, posting three assists and a plus-3 rating while averaging a team-high 26:15 of ice time per game in the first round.
The second pair of Shattenkirk and Jackman also will see a great deal of time.
|The blueliners chipped in just one goal and four assists, but the six who played were a combined plus-8; only Alec Martinez wasn't a plus-player -- his plus/minus was even. |
The top pair of Rob Scuderi and Drew Doughty will see the most ice time in the most important situations. Doughty played a team-high 26:32 per game and took just two minor penalties.
Willie Mitchell was a surprise offensive performer, scoring his second career playoff goal; he had one goal in 51 postseason games entering this year. He also blocked a team-high 25 shots.
Matt Greene is the most physical of the group, tying Brown for the team lead with 21 hits.
|Brian Elliott likely will start Game 1 while Jaroslav Halak continues to recover from the lower-body injury he sustained in Game 2 against the Sharks. Elliott was the backup in name only this season -- he led the League in goals-against average and save percentage during the regular season, and stopped 93 of 98 shots in the first round. |
|Jonathan Quick continued his Vezina-worthy play into the postseason, holding the Western Conference's highest-scoring team to just eight goals in five games. He also won't be intimidated playing on the road -- he had a 2.19 GAA away from home in the regular season, and a 1.58 GAA in raucous Vancouver. |
Hitchcock has gotten every player on the roster to buy in to everything he's told them this season. And with a Stanley Cup ring and two Cup Final trips on his resume, his players have reason to listen closely.
|This is Sutter's first time beyond the first round since he took the Flames to the Cup Final in 2004. However, he showed in the first round he still had the postseason touch. |
|The power play came to life in the postseason, scoring a goal in four of the five games and finishing at 33.3-percent (6-for-18). |
The penalty kill might have been even more impressive. The Sharks had the second-best power play in the regular season, but the Blues killed off the Sharks' final nine power plays during the final three games of the series.
|The Kings' power play contributed only three goals, and nearly was outscored by the penalty-killing unit (two shorthanded goals). However, their first two goals of the series were man-advantage goals to set the tone in Game 1, and Stoll's extra-man goal stood up as the winner in Game 2. |
Brown's two shorthanded goals in Game 2 marked the end of Roberto Luongo's time in net for the Canucks.
David Backes, Blues -- The St. Louis captain had just one goal in the first round but shut down the Sharks offensively for the most part. He'll be a big factor if the Blues hope to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 2001.
Dustin Penner, Kings -- The big forward had the winning goal in Game 1, but took just six shots in five games in the first round. If he can contribute offensively, it would give the Blues another matchup problem.
What If ...
Blues will win if … Elliott stays healthy, the top line contributes offensively and they stay as stout defensively as they have all season.
Kings will win if... Quick continues his outstanding play and the power play is able to contribute more than it did in the first round.