The unpredictability of the 2013 Blues seems to have disappeared at perhaps the best possible time. The Blues have won six of their last seven games, three of those wins being shutouts. The Blues did lose to Columbus on Friday evening, but it’s the first time in a while that the Blues have looked beatable. Perhaps the Blues are turning the corner, and if so, they picked the right time.
The Los Angeles Kings were the story of last year’s playoffs. The Kings barely clinched a playoff berth, grabbing the eighth seed in the Western Conference thanks to a monumental collapse by the Dallas Stars. The Kings clinched their spot just one game before the season, and rode their second-half momentum to the Stanley Cup Finals where they bested the New Jersey Devils in six games. Overall, the Kings were 16-4 in the playoffs, rendering their eighth-place seeding meaningless.
The Blues this year, in a lot of ways, mirror the Kings of last season. Of course, the Blues had more expectations this season than the Kings did last year, but the two are a lot alike. The Blues started this season as hot as any team in the National Hockey League. The Blues cruised to a 6-1 record, picking up where they had left off last year. However, the run didn’t last. The team went through its worst stretch of the past two seasons in February, and put themselves in a poor position. In fact, whether or not the Blues would make the playoffs actually became a concern. Now the Blues are as hot as they were at the beginning of the season, and as their momentum continues to build, so do their chances at winning the Stanley Cup.
Last year’s Kings went through the playoffs untouched. They made teams predicted to be far better than them look mediocre. As the Kings will tell you, they can credit a lot of their postseason success to timing.
The Blues are faced with a similar situation this year. Like last season’s Kings, the Blues have been incredibly inconsistent this season. With the play the team has exhibited the past few months, they would not make it out of the first round in the playoffs. But as the Kings showed last year, all that matters is making the playoffs.
Several components led to the Kings’ run last year. The first was the timing of their success. The team began gelling at the right time and carried the momentum into the playoffs, which was unmatched by any other team. Of course, the Kings’ goaltending was superb as well, which went a long way. The Blues’ goaltending this season has not been good. However, of late, the Blues’ goaltending, led by Brian Elliott, has undergone a significant turnaround. Elliott currently has a shutout streak of three games, or 189:31. His play has been remarkable, yet his ability to lead the Blues through the playoffs is questionable. However, the Blues are hoping to have Jaroslav Halak back for the postseason. Halak put together a great playoff run with the Canadiens, much like Jonathan Quick did for the Kings last season.
Perhaps the greatest asset for the Kings last year was their ability to roll four lines consistently. The Kings had four solid lines last season, much like the Blues do this season. In fact, at times, the Blues’ fourth line has been their best. Head coach Ken Hitchcock has expressed his liking of his fourth line repeatedly this season and for good reason.
The Blues’ fourth line is as good as any other in the NHL. Though they don’t score, they are very effective. They grind, keep the puck, and generate momentum. Anyone watching last year’s playoffs saw the Kings’ ability to use their fourth line effectively. Colin Fraser, Jordan Nolan, and Brad Richardson made up the Kings’ fourth line for the majority of last season. The line received praise, and surprised spectators. With the Blues, there will be no surprise. Chris Porter, Adam Cracknell, and Ryan Reaves have been playing a lot lately, occupying the Blues’ fourth line. While the Blues’ top scorers continue to underperform, the fourth line is doing a great job of keeping the Blues going, a must-have quality in the playoffs.
If the Blues can keep their winning ways going, they are primed for a lengthy playoff run. Seeding is not a huge factor. Rarely does the No. 1 seed have an easy glide through the playoffs. The playoffs are all about chemistry and momentum. If the Blues keep it up, they could become the Kings of this season.