Last season, the St. Louis Blues were just another speed bump on the road to a Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup. The young, gritty Blues had home ice advantage, and dropped both of their coveted home games in disastrous fashion to the Kings. It was ugly, it was tragic, and it was a perfect lesson for the upstart Blues squad.
The Blues have dropped the last eight matches to the Kings, dating back to the 2011-2012 regular season. However, since their final game against the Kings, the Blues have gone a fantastic 12-3. They went from the bottom of the pile to gaining home ice in the first round.
In my opinion, this has the potential to be the best match up in the entire first round. Los Angeles has a lot to prove, having underachieved as defending Stanley Cup champions. However, they recovered nicely from their slow start.
The Blues also had a slow start, but coach Ken Hitchcock guided them, and got them refocused on the prize. They added Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold down the stretch to shore up their blue line. And Brian Elliot’s play has been markedly improved.
Both teams play extremely heavy hockey. Expect space to be at a premium while these two heavyweights bang and bruise their way through this first round series. Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup last season by winning the battles along the boards, getting into the dirty parts of the ice and exerting their physical presence on other teams. The Blues, in the final few weeks of the season, did the same thing.
As far as lessons learned last year, Hitchcock says that the Blues are up to the task. Offensive depth helps this year, too. With meaningful contributions from rookies Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, the Blues are a force to be reckoned with.
And what player has had a better bounce-back season than the Blues’ Chris Stewart? Last season, Stewart was mostly a non-threat, netting only 15 goals and 30 points in 79 games. This season, he has played with poise and netted 18 goals in 48 games, his most since netting 28 goals during his sophomore campaign.
That doesn’t mean the Blues will have an easy time.
Los Angeles woke up from their hangover and have still have Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Dustin Brown on the attack, and Drew Doughty leading a blueline corps that is still a force to be reckoned with.
The key for the Blues is not to let the Kings dictate the play. If the Blues can avoid getting thrown back on their heels, they can win this grudge match. All they need is the will to win.
Every true contender, whether it’s in sport, life, or comic books, goes through a dark period. You need to learn to crawl before you can walk. And the Blues are ripe to learn from the lessons given by the Kings in last year’s post season. Gretzky and Messier talked about it. Bobby Orr talked about it. Scotty Bowman talked about it. And now coach Hitchcock is talking about it.
School is out. It’s time for the Blues to shine in the harsh reality of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Blues in 6.
Here’s what our other writers think:
Ben Kerr: Kings in 7. When it comes to the Kings, home ice means nothing. They beat the Blues in St. Louis in 7 games, thanks to the fact that they just wear down St. Louis in the series. Really even matchup though, and this was the hardest series to call. In that way I go with the Champs
Mitch Tierney: Kings in 6: Playoff experience makes the difference in this one. Despite their position the Kings are still a Western Conference favourite.
Max Vasilyev: Redemption time? Last year the Blues were embarrassed by LA Kings and this year I just don’t see it changing. Kings match up really good against the Blues and so the Blues are out in 5
Here’s the Schedule
Game 1: Tuesday, April 30 Blues vs. Kings, 7 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Midwest, CNBC, CBC (Canada)
Game 2: Thursday, May 2 Blues vs. Kings, 8:30 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Midwest, CNBC, CBC (Canada)
Game 3: Saturday, May 4 Blues at Kings, 9 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Midwest, NBC Sports Network, CBC (Canada)
Game 4: Monday, May 6 Blues at Kings, 9 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Midwest, NBC Sports Network, CBC (Canada)
Game 5: Wednesday, May 8* Blues vs. Kings, TBA, TV: Fox Sports Midwest, CBC (Canada)
Game 6: Friday, May 10* Blues at Kings, TBA, TV: Fox Sports Midwest, CBC (Canada)
Game 7: Monday May 13*Kings at Blues, TBA*, TV: Fox Sports Midwest, CBC (Canada)
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