A four seed and a five seed, separated by one point in the Western Conference Standings.
Four playoff games finished, with each team winning twice on its home ice.
A total of 14 goals in the series – 7 by each team.
There is not a more evenly-matched NHL playoffs series than the one that the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings are entertaining us with, and now we’re down to a three-game series, with the first to win two headed into the next round. The losers? Well, they get to go home, shave that scratchy beard off and schedule some dental work over the summer. Make no mistake, though – whichever team loses this series is going to have nothing to be ashamed of, even if they do spend most of the offseason lamenting what would have happened if only the puck had bounced their way one or two more times often.
How did we get here?
1. Good goaltending, of course.
Jonathan Quick played fantastic hockey in games 1 and 2 . . . until he experienced a case of temporary insanity in overtime of Game 1, and then contracted a case of Ryan Miller-itis when he gave up a soft, late goal in Game 2. I was interested to see how much those two games in St. Louis would haunt Quick, and I suppose the shut-out he mastered against the Blues in Game 3 provided my answer. He also managed to recover from a wild opening to Game 4 by stoning the Blues for the rest of the game, especially during their last-ditch flurry in the closing minutes. Brian Elliott has not suffered from the sort of mental breakdowns that Quick displayed early in the series; he’s been solid throughout, including a phenomenal second period Monday night that allowed the Blues to end the frame on top, 3-2. All of this is the equivalent of me saying, “Humans breathe air,” because what else did we expect from these two netminders? Quick and Elliott have the third and fourth best GAA out of any goalies who have seen ice time in the playoffs so far, as well as the fourth and fifth best save percentages. Any series that pits two All-World goaltenders against one another is going to feature games that could go either way every single night, which is why each team should feel confident that they can win this series.
2. Punishing Physical Play
My goodness, is this series hard-hitting. At one point Monday night I told my son to gear up, for fear the physical play on the TV screen was going to spill out into out living room. (Please don’t ask me if I was serious right there.) I mean . . . .
And then there’s . . .
And who can forget . . .
Ever watch an MMA match in which the combatants scored a goal? Still wonder why goals are few and far between in this battle?
3. New Heroes Every Night. Which is Another Way To Say, No Consistent Scorers.
One of the factors I examined when I sat down to preview this series was the fact that both teams subscribed to the “scoring by
committee” approach. While I understand hockey is a team sport, I’ve watched sports long enough to learn that very few professional teams win without two to three bona fide nightly scorers. The Edmonton Oilers had Wayne Gretzky (and Mark Messier, and Paul Coffey, and . . .); the Pittsburgh Penguins had Mario Lemieux, then Jaromir Jagr, and now Sidney Crosby; and so on. It’s nice to have a team that distributes its scoring evenly among 5-6 players, as both St. Louis and Los Angeles do, but it’s also easier for teams like that to go into prolonged droughts, since they are unsure of who to turn to in order to stop the bleeding. As of right now, both teams are experiencing the pros and cons of the “scoring by committee” approach. Los Angeles, for instance, scored three goals in the first three games: one each by Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, and Slava Voynov. Voynov got to be the hero of Game 3 . . . only because St. Louis suffers from the same inconsistency on offense. Game One, Alexander Steen had the scoring touch for the Blues . . . and he has not eared one point since. Nor has Barret Jackman, the defenseman who scored the game-winning goal in Game 2: hero one game, pointless the next two. Having a new hero every night is a bit of a double-edged sword . . . but it makes for nice, tightly-contested games, which is honestly all I care about.
Game 5 of this series shifts back to St. Louis, so tune in tonight at 9 p.m. to see if either team is able to deliver a knock-out blow in a fight that seems destined to go the distance!