Last year's Western Conference Playoffs were dominated by the plucky L.A. Kings, as the eighth-seeded Kings steamrolled the top-ranked Vancouver Canucks and second-seed St. Louis Blues, before dismantling the surprising Coyotes in the Western Conference Finals. The rest, of course, is history as the Kings exorcised the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final to raise their first ever Stanley Cup Championship banner. The Kings also became the first ever eighth seed to win the Cup.
The core that took the Kings to the Stanley Cup finals last year is still intact, but a plague of inconsistency has raised some question marks. The Cup Hangover was rough to the Kings early in the year, leaving them 3-5-2 in their first ten games. They were able to dig themselves out of a hole, however, going 17-7 between late February and March, in large part due to rejuvenated netminder Jonathan Quick and some consistency on their blueline. Anze Kopitar led the team with 42 points this year, but it was the scoring touch of Jeff Carter that really sparked the team's offense with 26 goals (fourth in NHL).
Despite their playoff experience, there are some hesitations about L.A. this year as they limp into the playoffs, having given up home ice advantage in the first round to the St. Louis Blues. L.A. may boast one of the best forward groups, but I am somewhat concerned about their blueline against a deep St. Louis team. Still, the Kings will be a force to be reckoned with in the West. This team is deep, they are gritty, and they know what it takes to win a Cup.
Much like the Kings, the Blues have had a Jekyll and Hyde kind of year, coming out of the gate as one of the hottest teams in the league before injuries and questionable goaltending skunked part of their season. The ‘Notes started their year 6-1 with the only loss coming against the then-unbeaten Chicago Blackhawks, before squandering their next ten games with inconsistent play. April proved to be good for the Blues, however, as they went 12-3 in the month, including three back-to-back shutouts and a four game winning streak during which they outscored opponents 10-3. More than one analyst has said the Blues remind them of last spring's L.A. Kings.
On paper, the Blues are one of the deepest teams in the entire league with 10 players scoring 20 or more points and two players with 19. Last season, the Blues had the best goaltending tandem in the NHL, but this season Brian Elliot, Jaroslav Halak and Jake Allen have struggled to be consistent night in and night out for the Blue Notes, averaging 2.29 GAA and .904 SV%.
|2012 - Dustin Brown||46||18||11||29||+6||22||8||0||1||142||12.7|
The Kings' pesky captain had many players last year seeing red for his edgy play. Look for him to continue his sandpaper style in an effort to goad the Blues into taking penalties.
|2012 - David Backes||48||6||22||28||+5||62||1||0||1||100||6.0|
Much like the Kings' Brown, Backes is a superpest in his own right, providing a dangerous combination of heavy hitting and playmaking abilities. Backes may not have had a great offensive year (only six goals) but he has certainly led the Blues through good times and bad.
L.A. Kings PP (19.9%, Ranked 10th), L.A. Kings PK (83.2%, Ranked 10th)
St. Louis Blues PP (19.5%, Ranked 12th), St. Louis Blues PK (84.7%, Ranked 7th)
L.A. Kings: Darryl Sutter. 11 years of playoff experience, 2 Stanley Cup Final appearances, one Stanley Cup.
St. Louis Blues: Ken Hitchcock. 7 years of playoff experience, 2 Stanley Cup Final appearances, one Stanley Cup.
L.A. Kings: Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier
St. Louis Blues: Brian Elliot, Jaroslav Halak, and Jake Allen
|Dirk||Los Angeles||The Kings are much like the Blues, only more so.|
|Sam||Los Angeles||Shame that someone has to lose.|
|Caroline||Los Angeles||I just... I dunno. It's pretty even. St. Louis will want revenge from last year, but LA is defending the Cup... my gut says LA.|
|Jonathan||Los Angeles||Blues get some revenge from last year, but it's not enough to stop the Kings who win in 6.|
|Chris||Los Angeles||My Stanley Cup predection from last year proved to be correct! I am riding the Kings this year as well. Kings in 6.|
|George||St. Louis||The Kings have been good this year, but not great. The Blues have more resilience and speed. This will be the best first round series, and the Blues will take it in 7.|
|Jason||Los Angeles||L.A. gets a little further in their Cup defense...Kings in 6.|
SB Nation Sites
|Tuesday, April 30||7:00 p.m.||St. Louis||CNBC, CBC|
|Thursday, May 2||8:30 p.m.||St. Louis||CNBC, CBC|
|Saturday, May 4||9:00 p.m.||Los Angeles||NBC Sports Network, CBC|
|Monday, May 6||9:00 p.m.||Los Angeles||NBC Sports Network, CBC|
|*Wednesday, May 8||TBD||St. Louis||CBC|
|*Friday, May 10||TBD||Los Angeles||CBC|
|*Monday, May 13||TBD||St. Louis||CBC|