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Blues, Kings ready for best-of-3 series

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- Every game has been decided by one goal. Each team feels like it could have won all four. This is how tight the Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings has gotten.

The Blues had the early momentum by winning the first two at Scottrade Center. The Kings grabbed it back with a pair of victories in Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center.

It sets up Game 5 in St. Louis on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, CNBC, CBC), where the Blues have won eight in a row, and the Kings have lost eight straight on the road. On the flip side, the defending Stanley Cup champions have won nine in a row at home.

So what can be made of the series so far? It's everything everyone cooked it up to be.

"It's been like, 'Who's got control of anything right now?'" Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They got momentum off the game [Monday]. I don't think they got momentum off of Game 3. We probably deserved a better fate in [Game] 3, but they took the game [Monday]. They were better than we were. They won a lot of puck battles that we'd been winning before. They dialed it up. There's another level out there. It's our job now to answer the level.

"We got home ice, we've earned it. It's a best-of-3 now. We'll see where it goes. It's been very intense, hard hockey. They went up in a gear [Monday] that we're going to have to find an answer for."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter agreed with Hitchcock's assessment that neither team has control of anything.

"There hasn't been much difference in the games whether it's home or road," Sutter said. "It's all one-goal games and they're all third-period games and you just go shift by shift."

The Blues, who took Games 1 and 2 by matching 2-1 scores, have to be a bit shaken after coming away with a 1-0 Game 3 loss then squandering 2-0 and 3-2 leads in Game 4 to see the Kings win 4-3 following a two-goal third period.

But the Blues certainly don't appear to be a rattled team.

"I don't think our confidence is shaken here," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "If anything, we're just disappointed with what happened [in Game 4] because we know we could have done better. We know we could have responded better to it and I think we've shown it in three games. It's not like we don't know what we have to do to get back to the right way."

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said, "Yeah, to think we're not confident is ... not a very good statement. We were up 2-0 in the series, we were up 2-0 in [Game 4]. We know what we’ve got to do. We've just got to find a way to play. We didn't get blown out. A lot of positive things to build on."

David Backes and T.J. Oshie, who scored twice in the game, spotted the Blues a 2-0 lead less than five minutes into the game. It was the kind of start the Blues were looking for, the kind they maybe were lacking in Game 3. But then the mistakes came, the Kings pushed back and got the Blues on their heels.

"It's a tough game out there," Backes said. "I just think that there were some plays we were hesitating a little bit on, or we were leaning a bit too much on the offensive side after we scored two. With their firepower and their skill up front, you can't give them too many extra opportunities or they'll make you pay, and they did.

"We've got some soul-searching to do, look in the mirror and bring a better effort and more composed effort when we get home on Wednesday."

One thing is certain: The Kings found another level. It's up to the Blues to try and match it and overtake it.

"They just got a gear," Hitchcock said of the Kings. "They got a gear that they know how to get to. That's what championship teams do. It's our job to answer it."

Now it comes down to a mini-series.

"We're in a good position still," Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "You just approach it now like it's a three-game series. Don't get too far ahead of yourself."

The Kings may have some momentum after winning two straight but they're certainly not overly confident.

"We knew it was going to be a tight series," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "If you look at the way the teams are built, what each team is good at, we're both really good defensive teams, both have good goalies. You've got to work really hard to find goals. I think it's going to be more of the same in Game 5. Nothing's changed for either team. It's getting ready to go again."

Expect Blues captain David Backes to be ready to go for Game 5. He skipped the morning skate Wednesday but has been known to make maintenance days in the past. Hitchcock would not comment on personnel decisions, but it's expected Backes will be on the ice.

The projected lineups for Game 5:


Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams

Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter

Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis

Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser

Robyn Regehr - Drew Doughty

Jake Muzzin - Slava Voynov

Rob Scuderi - Alec Martinez

Keaton Ellerby

Jonathan Quick

Jonathan Bernier

Scratched: Brad Richardson, Jordan Nolan, Tyler Toffoli

Injured: Willie Mitchell (knee), Matt Greene (lower body)


Jaden Schwartz - David Backes - Alexander Steen

Andy McDonald - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart

David Perron - Patrik Berglund - T.J. Oshie

Adam Cracknell - Chris Porter - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Jordan Leopold - Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott

Jaroslav Halak

Scratched: Kris Russell, Ian Cole, Vladimir Tarasenko, Scott Nichol, Jake Allen, Dmitrij Jaskin

Injured: Jamie Langenbrunner (hip)

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