8) Kings vs. 2) Blues
How they got here…Blues-WCQ: Beat (7) Sharks in 5Kings-WCQ: Beat (1) Canucks in 5
Season Series…3-1 Kings
Previous Playoff Meetings…1998 WCQ: 4) Blues over 5) Kings in 41969 WCF: 1) Blues over 4) Kings in 4
Tale of the Tape…Forwards-Edge: Even… I like the Kings’ top two lines, but I also like the Blues’ depth up front. Draw.Defensemen-Edge: Even… The Blues gave up the least number of goals this season, but the Kings have some savvy playoff-tested defensemen. Both defense corps were at their best in Round 1.Goaltending-Edge: Kings… This is awfully close. It comes down to one thing, though – if it becomes a pure goaltending duel in these (expected) tight games, I’d take Jonathan Quick over Brian Elliott.Special Teams-Edge: Even… The Blues’ power play went off in Round 1, but they were facing a dismal Sharks penalty kill. Otherwise, these two teams look fairly even here.Coaching-Edge: Blues… Ken Hitchcock and Darryl Sutter both run great, effective systems. However, Hitchcock has something Sutter does not: a Stanley Cup.Experience-Edge: Even… Neither team has advanced past the first round in a decade; both teams have a nice mix of veterans and youth.Health-Edge: Even… Jaroslav Halak is hurt for the Blues, but Elliott’s first round success makes it a non-concern – for now.
Keys to the Series…Blues-1. Continued power play success… Though they were facing a bad San Jose PK, the Blues’ man advantage was a big key to success in Round 1. I’m sure Hitchcock would like to see a similar effort on the power play, a unit that went 6-for-17 against the Sharks. The Blues will be facing a better PK this round, but if they can continue to score goals it’ll go a long way.2. Elliott out-play Quick… Pound for pound, Quick is the better goaltender in this series. It’s no disrespect to Elliott, who led the NHL in GAA this season, but Quick has the ability to steal a game and put the team on his back. St. Louis will need Elliott to play as good as or better than Quick and make the bigger saves in key moments – and there should be a lot of those moments since every game will be close.
Kings-1. Kopitar’s playoff breakout party… We all know Anze Kopitar is a great player. Playing on the west coast, he’s probably underrated. This is his time to bust out and prove he’s a big-game performer, something he has yet to do in his brief playoff career. Kopitar had one goal and four points in the first round, but he can get hot at any moment. If he turns into the dominant center he can be and is the best player in this series, it will help the Kings immensely.2. Force turnovers, mistakes… If the Kings plan on winning this series by playing straight up against the Blues, they probably won’t come out on top. When the Blues are on top of their game, they are incredibly difficult to score on. Sutter’s gang has to be aggressive in this series and force the Blues’ defensemen into making uncharacteristic turnovers. If they do that they could put the Blues on their heels a bit; and the Blues aren’t very good in that situation.
Why the Blues will win…It’s difficult to find many reasons for either team to win since they are so even. St. Louis will win this series, though, because of the reasons above. Their system is uber-effective when everyone is clicking; the defense and goaltending is solid; and the offense has come through in a timely fashion here in the playoffs. Home ice hasn’t been an advantage thus far in the playoffs, but the Blues are really tough to beat at home. In the end, if they continue to buy what Hitchcock is selling it is hard picturing them falling short here – but then again, not much separates these teams.
Why the Kings will win…This isn’t your regular 8-seed. The Kings are playing lights-out hockey right now, coming off a surprisingly-quick series win over the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks. Their postseason success should continue if Quick continues to be dynamite between the pipes – but that’s no guarantee since the Blues have stellar goaltending, too. The Kings’ penalty kill has been dominant at times this season, and it’s more than good enough to frustrate the Blues. As good as the Blues are at home, the Kings were really good on the road in Round 1. Nothing will faze them.
Forecast…Flip a coin. That’s how I truly feel about this series. These two are so similar that you could switch their jerseys and you wouldn’t know the difference. There won’t be much room to operate in this series, so this series could come down to which team uses its size to their advantage more, or which team simply gets the bounces. First to two goals wins each game. There’s something about this Blues team that makes me think they won’t lose this series.Prediction: Blues in 7
4) Predators vs. 3) Coyotes
How they got here…Coyotes-WCQ: Beat (6) Blackhawks in 6Predators-WCQ: Beat (5) Red Wings in 5
Season Series…Tied 2-2
Previous Playoff Meetings…First meeting
Tale of the Tape…Forwards-Edge: Predators… Outside of one individual – Alexander Radulov – the two offenses are comparable. Then again, Radulov is the lone game-breaker up front for either side.Defensemen-Edge: Predators… Coyotes have nice depth, but so do the Predators. The difference is Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the league’s best pairing.Goaltending-Edge: Even… Pekka Rinne’s athleticism is matched by Mike Smith’s positioning. Both were great in the first round. This should be fun.Special Teams-Edge: Coyotes… An ever-slight advantage goes to Phoenix here – if their stingy penalty kill can keep the Predators’ power play off the board.Coaching-Edge: Even… Barry Trotz has never been past the second round; Dave Tippett has one conference final appearance on his resume. Both are solid, underappreciated coaches in their own right.Experience-Edge: Even… Both teams have a nice mix of veterans and youth; neither team has a winning history in the playoffs.Health-Edge: Even… Hal Gill is expected to return for this series, so neither team has an impact injury otherwise.
Keys to the Series…Coyotes-1. Frustrate Predators power play… The Coyotes’ penalty kill has been really good all season, but it was great in the first round in killing off all but one of Chicago’s 19 power plays in the series. Nashville had some power play struggles against Detroit despite holding the top man advantage unit in the NHL. Tippett’s gang needs to continue their success on the penalty kill and frustrate the Predators’ power play.2. Neutralize Radulov… With each passing game in the first round, the more comfortable Radulov looked for the Predators. The Coyotes have to find a way to limit his effectiveness. They did so with Patrick Kane, who finished with zero goals against them. Radulov, who led the Predators with five first-round points, is a different player and thrives in tight space. Phoenix needs a solution for Radulov.
Predators-1. Play with the lead… The Coyotes are really good when they score first, and are a different team when they have to play catch-up. Meanwhile, the Predators never trailed in their four wins against Detroit. Even though Phoenix was susceptible to giving up late leads in the first round, it likely won’t continue. Trotz’s gang needs to play with the lead and force the Coyotes to come back on Rinne.2. Stay patient… The Predators also need to stay patient. The team they’re playing here in the second round will give up shots; the ‘Yotes gave up 40-plus shots per game in six games against Chicago (outshot each time) and surrendered the third-most shots in the regular season. The thing is, most of the shots come from the outside and they don’t give up many chances. The Predators have to be patient and opportunistic like they were at times against Detroit.
Why the Coyotes will win…The same reason why they beat Chicago: Mike Smith. Nashville doesn’t pose the offensive threats Chicago does, but these are two evenly matched teams in this series. Whichever teams gets better goaltending, whether it’s Smith or Rinne, will have an advantage in advancing to the conference final. You know what you’re getting from Weber and Suter, but Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are solid defensemen in their own right; they will each need to have a big series for the Coyotes. If they regain focus after the big moment of winning a playoff series for the first time in the desert, there’s no reason to think they can’t beat Nashville.
Why the Predators will win…They will win this series if they can continue to get contributions all throughout the lineup. They essentially have eight top-six forwards; that depth made a big difference against Detroit. Mike Fisher’s line struggled with production against Detroit, but they won’t be shadowing a player like Pavel Datsyuk throughout this series – so maybe things will open up for that trio. Defensively, getting a healthy Gill back in the lineup can’t do anything but help. The week-long rest could turn into some rust, but Rinne will definitely benefit from the break. Don’t undervalue the ‘different feeling’ in Nashville. This series may mean more to them in the big picture than the Coyotes.
Forecast…These are two similar teams that like to frustrate their opponents on the forecheck and with less space to operate offensively. These teams have had similar paths to get to where they are now, having to continually prove doubters wrong and overcome off-ice issues in the past (or the current, if you’re Phoenix). The Coyotes and Predators also combined to go 5-0 on the road in the first round, so home-ice advantage doesn’t matter in this series. The Predators are primarily focused on the ultimate prize; I don’t get that same feeling from the Coyotes.Prediction: Predators in 6
Photos credit: Getty Images
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