LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings qualified for the 2013 post-season party as the fifth seed in the Western Conference, and will face the St. Louis Blues in the first round, with Game 1 in St. Louis tonight (5:00 PM PDT, televised in Southern California on Prime Ticket).
For those who may still have the Kings’ sweep of the Blues in the second round of last season’s playoffs on their minds and believe that the Kings will enjoy similar success this time around, you can forget about that.
In fact, the Blues are likely to give the Kings a serious run for the money, and they have a good chance of winning the series, even though the Kings dominated the Blues in head-to-head competition during the regular season, sweeping the three games and outscoring them 14-7 in those contests.
Going back to last season’s playoffs, the Blues are 1-9-1 against the Kings. But on the upside for St. Louis, they are 7-3-0 in their last ten games of the regular season, and they earned a 14-9-1 road record, while the Kings were a poor road team this season, with a dismal 8-12-4 record.
In any playoff series, goaltending is key, and both teams have netminders who have been on the rise.
For the Kings, Jonathan Quick ended the season with a 5-1-1 record in his last seven games, earning a 1.94 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. But no one should expect him to match or surpass his record-setting performance during last season’s playoffs. Could that happen? Sure. If it does, the Kings become heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup again. But is a repeat performance likely? No.
On top of that, what if Quick falters? Backup Jonathan Bernier has been outstanding this season, but has not played a single playoff game. The lack of playoff experience could be a factor that works against the Kings should Bernier’s services be required.
In any case, the Kings will likely need to step things up on defense to help their goaltenders during the 2013 post-season party.
For St. Louis, Brian Elliott finished the season white-hot, earning a 11-2-0 record in his last 13 games, with a 1.28 GAA, and a .948 save percentage.
During the playoffs against the Kings last season, Elliott, who played the entire series with Jaroslav Halak out with an injury, got little help from his defense, and when he did, he was a sieve. But this season, he has reinforcements in front of him, and they could prove to be the difference against the Kings.
In the days just before the trade deadline, the Blues acquired defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold to give their blue lines corps a boost. Both are big, physical defensemen who give the Blues a much better presence in front of their own net, and should help them counter the Kings’ forecheck, which was the undoing of the Blues in the playoffs last season.
Up front, the Kings still have an advantage down the middle, with Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll as their top three centers. The teams match up well on the wings, although Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown give the Kings a slight edge there. On the blue line, even with the Blues adding Bouwmeester and Leopold, the Kings again have the advantage, with Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, and Slava Voynov adding offense from the point, and with Matt Greene, Robyn Regehr, and Rob Scuderi adding solid, stay-at-home play.
But a key factor that works in the Blues’ favor is perhaps the biggest of them all: motivation. Indeed, after being swept by the Kings last season, the Blues are out for revenge, and have had the Kings in their crosshairs ever since they lost Game 4 last year.
Will that added motivation give the Blues the advantage they need?
In the end, it could, but the Kings are not unaware of the fact that the Blues are gunning for them. As such, Frozen Royalty’s prediction is:
Kings in seven.
Attention Metro Expo Line Riders!
Metro Expo Line riders who will be attending Game 3 of this series against the Blues on Saturday, May 4, at Staples Center, should be advised that Metro will be replacing a support pole that was taken out on April 4 by a driver who was allegedly under the influence.
The driver was headed the wrong way on Flower Street, just south of Washington Boulevard, when he hit a pole that supports the overhead catenary wires that provide electrical power to the trains, as well train control signal heads that were also in the vicinity (see Metro’ photos of the aftermath here).
A Metro advisory stated that crews will be working from 8:30 PM to the close of service that night. As a result, the Expo Line will run between Culver City Station and 23rd Street Station. A bus bridge will run from 23rd Street to Grand Station.
Fans attending the game should plan accordingly. Expo Line riders will need to board a southbound (the headsign should read “Long Beach” or sometimes “Willow”) Metro Blue Line train at Pico/Chick Hearn Station, or 7th Street/Metro station, disembarking at Grand Station. At that point, riders can board the bus bridge to 23rd Street Station, where they can catch the Expo Line for the rest of their trip.
UPDATE: Metro has added shuttle service from Pico/Chick Hearn Station directly to 23rd Street Station that will run from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM to accommodate those attending the game. Although Metro is ending the service way too close to the end of the game (assuming it ends in regulation time), this will be more convenient for Metro Expo Line riders.
UPDATE #2: Metro announced that the 10:00 PM ending time for their shuttle service was a typographical error. The shuttle from Pico/Chick Hearn station to 23rd Street Station will run until 11:00 PM.
For those who ride the Metro Blue Line to Grand Station, and then catch the bus bridge to 23rd Street Station, Metro has also confirmed that no additional fare will be required.
Indeed, under normal circumstances, riding on the Metro Blue Line, and then transferring to a different train, including the Metro Expo Line, would constitute a separate boarding, and would require a patron to pay a separate fare. But according to Anna Chen, who writes for Metro’s official blog, The Source, that will not be in effect, given the circumstances.
“There will be no additional fare required,” Chen wrote. “You’ll just have to [tap your TAP card} once at 7th/Metro [Center or Pico/Chick Hearn stations].”
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