(2) St. Louis Blues vs (8) Los Angeles Kings
The Kings surprised a lot of people by not only overthrowing the Presidents’ Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks, but by doing it in just five games. Netminder Jonathan Quick was outstanding and the Kings forwards were good enough to push them past a team that figured to be a major Cup contender. So with that accomplished, where do the Kings stand against the Blues?
The two teams certainly have their similarities. Both are powered by great goalies and in the Blues case it’s the combination of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, who were equally effective against the San Jose Sharks in the first round. They also have both benefited from mid-season coaching changes. The Blues season really got going when they hired Ken Hitchcock to serve as their new bench boss and so far Darryl Sutter has looked like the right fit for the Los Angeles Kings.
They also both have underrated offenses. Although the Kings certainly haven’t overwhelmed teams offensively, they do have plenty of weapons in that department, including Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter. Meanwhile the Blues have a much more balanced attack that’s led by David Backes, Patrik Berglund, and Andy McDonald.
Ultimately, where St. Louis has the biggest edge is in their depth. Having veterans like Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner should provide them with a huge boost, especially seeing as this is likely to be a low scoring series that could feature several overtime games. Depth, rather than pure star power, is ultimately vital for success in the playoffs and that’s one area the Blues seem to excel at.
The X-factors in this series are Richards and Carter, who haven’t been able to live up to expectations since they left Philadelphia. They’re more than capable of being difference makers if they get hot, but as things stand, I see the Kings’ Cinderella story ending at the Blues’ hands in five games.
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Andy McDonald
Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner-Scott Nichol-B.J. Crombeen
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Andy McDonald was phenomenal in the first round with four goals and eight points in five games. Brian Elliott also did a great job stepping in after Jaroslav Halak was injured. Elliott had a 1.37 GAA and .950 save percentage in four games in the first round.
David Backes has a goal, no assists, and a minus-three rating in five playoff games. They didn't end up needing much out of him in the first round, but their chances of having a long playoff run would be significantly greater if he snaps out of his cold streak.
Jaroslav Halak will miss at least the first two games of the series due to a lower body injury.
This is already the furthest the Blues have gotten since 2002.
The St. Louis Blues previously played the Kings in 1969 and 1998 and swept them both times.
Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Dwight King-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis
Brad Richardson-Colin Fraser-Jordan Nolan
Willie Mitchell-Drew Doughty
Rob Scuderi-Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez-Matt Greene
Netminder Jonathan Quick was one of the primary reasons the Kings got past Vancouver. He posted an incredible 1.59 GAA and .950 save percentage in five playoff games. Dustin Brown was also a big factor with four goals and five points in five contests.
None of the Kings players performed well below expectations, but Jeff Carter was held off the scoresheet in the final four games of the first round. To his credit, he did get two assists in Game 1, but the Kings will still be looking for him to play a bigger role in the second round.
Simon Gagne has a concussion and is out indefinitely. There's also no return date for Scott Parse, who underwent hip surgery on December 2nd.
This is the first time that the Los Angeles Kings have made it to the Conference Semifinals since 2001.
The Kings had a relatively anemic 11.5% power-play success rate in the first round.
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (4) Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators took a big risk when they decided to be major buyers in the trade market, and for the most part in paid off alright in the first round. Paul Gaustad, who was brought in more as a depth and defensively player, fulfilled his role while also chipping in with two points in five games. Andrei Kostitsyn was similarly serviceable, providing the team with some added scoring depth.
That being said, the Predators biggest gain was from a player who returned after a long absence, rather than a trade. After spending years in the KHL, Alexander Radulov proved that he wouldn’t wilt in the playoffs, even against a storied team like the Detroit Red Wings. Radulov led the Predators with five points in five games and figures to be one of the biggest threats to the Phoenix Coyotes moving forward.
The other big story from the Predators side is rookie Gabriel Bourque, who had three goals and four points against the Red Wings in the first round. Bourque’s offensive outburst wasn’t entirely out of left field, but it’s still anyone’s guess whether or not he can maintain it, which makes him this series’ biggest question mark.
The Phoenix Coyotes, on the other hand, didn’t really have any big surprises in the first round, outside of maybe Antoine Vermette, who found the back of the net four times after only scoring three goals in 22 contests with Phoenix in the regular season.
When everyone’s clicking, the Coyotes do have enough offensive depth to match up with the Predators line for line, but if they’re going to find a way past Nashville, it’s going to be on the back of goaltender Mike Smith.
Smith was the real story for the Predators in the first round, dispatching the Chicago Blackhawks in six games with his 1.81 GAA and monstrous .950 save percentage. He’s the main reason Phoenix even made the playoffs, so it’s only appropriate that their fate still rests on his shoulders. Still, unlike the Blackhawks, the Predators still have the edge in the goaltending department.
Although what Smith’s done this season shouldn’t be dismissed, Pekka Rinne is quite simply one of the best in the business, and he’ll look better in the likely event that defenseman Hal Gill (lower body) returns early in this series after missing the entire first round.
This isn’t David and Goliath, but the Predators do have a slight edge overall, and I see them getting past the Coyotes in six games.
Ray Whitney-Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker-Antoine Vermette-Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt-Boyd Gordon-Lauri Korpikoski
Gilbert Brule-Daymond Langkow-Kyle Chipchura
Keith Yandle-Oliver Ekman-Larsson
David Schlemko-Michal Roszival
Rostislav Klesla-Derek Morris
As is often the case, it's the team with a hot goaltender that makes it this far. The Coyotes were certainly no exception as Mike Smith managed a 1.81 GAA and .950 save percentage in six games against the Chicago Blackhawks. Antoine Vermette was also on fire for the Coyotes with four goals and five points in six playoff contests.
Shane Doan has just two points in six playoff contests, although in his defense, he also has a team-high 31 hits. Radim Vrbata finished the first round with just one assist and a team-worst minus-four record in six games.
The Phoenix Coyotes will be without Raffi Torres, who is serving a 25-game suspension. On a more positive note, the team is relatively healthy going into the second round.
This is the first time that the Coyotes have won a playoff series since they left Winnipeg in 1996.
Phoenix led all Western Conference teams by averaging 2.83 goals per game in the first round. The also successfully killed off an impressive 94.7% of their penalties.
Andrei Kostitsyn-David Legwand-Alexander Radulov
Sergei Kostitsyn-Mike Fisher-Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque-Nick Spaling-Patric Hornqvist
Craig Smith-Paul Gaustad-Brandon Yip
Ryan Suter-Shea Weber
Roman Josi-Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon-Ryan Ellis
The return of Alexander Radulov has certainly paid off so far. Radulov has a goal and four assists in five playoff contests. He's also riding a four-game point streak. In addition, rookie Gabriel Bourque made his mark with three goals and four points in five games against the Detroit Red Wings.
Sergei Kostitsyn was limited to one goal and no assists in five playoff games. Kostitsyn also had a minus-two rating on a team that only lost one game in the first round.
Hal Gill (lower body) might be back for Game 1 of the second round.
The Predators are the only Western Conference team to be appearing in the Conference Semifinals for the second consecutive season.
Nashville outscored Detroit 7-3 in the third period of their first round contests. That proved to be the difference in the series.