The second-seeded St. Louis Blues will aim for a quick start in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals, as they host the Los Angeles Kings in tonight's Game 1 from Scottrade Center.
The Blues dropped Game 1 of their opening series against San Jose, but recovered nicely by taking the last four meetings to win the set in five. It marked the first time the Blues won a playoff series since the spring of 2002, when they ousted Chicago in the opening round before losing to Detroit in the Western Conference semifinals.
St. Louis hasn't moved past the second round of the playoffs since 2001, when it bowed out in five games to Colorado in the Western Conference finals.
Two of the biggest reasons the St. Louis Blues won their first Central Division title in 12 years this season was the club's overall defensive play and their tandem approach to goaltending. Both of those strengths served the Blues well in the first round of the postseason, as St. Louis rolled past the Sharks in Round 1.
The Blues were the best defensive team in the NHL during the regular season, allowing an average of 1.89 goals per game. St. Louis was even stingier than that in the opening round, holding San Jose to eight goals (1.60 goals per game) over the five meetings.
One of the reasons St. Louis is so hard to score against is it has not one, but two legitimate starting goaltenders in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.
Halak was 26-12-7 with six shutouts and 1.97 goals-against average during the regular season and Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock opted to start him at the beginning of the playoffs. However, when Halak went down with a lower-body injury in Game 2, Elliott showed he was more than capable of taking over as the No. 1 option between the pipes.
Elliott, who was 23-10-4 with a 1.56 GAA and nine shutouts during the regular season, started the final three games of St. Louis' conference quarterfinal matchup with the Sharks and won all three tilts. He stopped 93-of-98 shots in the series for a .949 save percentage.
Elliott enters this series as the starter and Halak, who has not been able to suit up since being injured, is expected to miss at least the first two tests of the second round. That means Jake Allen will serve as the backup at the start of this series. Even when Halak is ready to play, it seems unlikely that Hitchcock will remove Elliott from the starting role if he continues to play well.
St. Louis is not known for its offensive firepower, but forwards Andy McDonald and Patrik Berglund are both coming off productive series against the Sharks. McDonald posted four goals and a team-high eight points, while Berglund had three markers and four assists. They were the only two Blues players to score more than one goal in the five games against San Jose.
All told, St. Louis posted 14 goals in the five games against the Sharks. They also scored six times on 18 power-play chances for a 33.3-percent success rate. The Blues converted on just 16.7-percent of their opportunities with the man advantage during the regular season.
The Blues did not get a single goal from a defenseman in the opening round, but it wasn't for a lack of shooting. Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are the best scoring options from the blue line for St. Louis and the two youngsters combined to fire 31 shots on goal against the Sharks.
Just like the Blues, the Los Angeles Kings rediscovered what winning a postseason series feels like in this year's Western Conference quarterfinals.
The only difference was St. Louis was the favorite in its series while the eighth-seeded Kings needed to pull off a surprising upset of the Vancouver Canucks. By downing last year's Western Conference champions in five games, Los Angeles won its first playoff series since the spring of 2001, The Kings haven't been past the second round since Wayne Gretzky led the franchise to its only Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1993.
Jonathan Quick has been the best player for the Kings all season long and the 2011-12 Vezina Trophy finalist continued that trend with a stellar performance in the opening round. Quick, who led the NHL with 10 shutouts in 2011-12, went 4-1 with a 1.59 GAA and .953 save percentage in five games against a Vancouver team that had the league's fifth-ranked offense during the regular season.
With his team struggling to score goals for much of the season, Quick learned how to excel in close games. However, Los Angeles fared well in the scoring department in the first round against the Canucks, scoring 12 times over the five games.
Kings captain Dustin Brown was the club's best skater in the opening round, leading his team in goals (4), points (5), shots on goal (25) and plus-minus (plus-4). The only other King to score more than one goal against Vancouver was Jarret Stoll, who had two markers, including the overtime game-winner in the fifth and final game.
Forwards Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams finished behind Brown with four points apiece against the Canucks, while Mike Richards recorded a goal and two assists.
Jeff Carter, who was acquired from Columbus before this year's trade deadline to give LA some added offensive punch, had two assists over the five games in Round 1.
The Kings claimed the regular-season series against St. Louis this season, winning three of the four encounters. Quick made 35 saves in a 1-0 shootout win over the Blues when the clubs met last on March 22 in Los Angeles. The Kings outscored St. Louis by a combined 9-3 margin in the four meetings.
There's not much playoff history between these clubs, but St. Louis has swept both postseason encounters. The Blues took both the 1969 West Division semifinals and the 1998 Western Conference quarterfinals in four games.
Game 2 of this best-of-seven series is scheduled for Monday in St. Louis.