ST. LOUIS -- The talk of the St. Louis Blues locker room was this tongue-in-cheek prediction of a final score for the opener of their second-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings: Zero to minus-1.
Goals would seem to be at a premium for the teams after their opening round wins, and the Blues are confident they’ve got a goalie that’s just as stingy as Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick. Two of them, in fact.
Jaroslav Halak was ruled out Monday for the first two games with an undisclosed injury but that’s no big deal for Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. Brian Elliott emerged as a star this season, even though it was in a job share with Halak, and he shut down the San Jose Sharks as the Blues needed just five games to win their first playoff series in a decade.
Elliott stopped 98 of 103 shots against the Sharks, a strong follow-up after leading the NHL with a 1.56 goals-against average with nine shutouts in the regular season. Elliott was the Blues’ lone All-Star and he’s been money for Hitchcock for a long time.
“I don’t know why it’s a surprise when your body of work the whole year, you look the same every night,” Hitchcock said. “I think we’re lucky we’ve got a guy like him.”
The coach also thought he’d get the same high level from Elliott in Game 1 against the Kings even if he hadn’t played in the first round.
“More work, less work—I don’t want to say it’s a holiday, but when you’re only playing three games a week and you’re playing against the same opponent, you get in a rhythm,” Hitchcock said. “He’s been good for such a long time we just expect it.”
Halak has an undisclosed lower-body injury that is believed to be a sprained left ankle sustained in a collision with teammate Barret Jackman in Game 2 against the Sharks. He appeared to be walking fine leaving the locker room after the first-round clincher but was not at practice Monday.
Hitchcock had little to say about Halak’s progress, aside from the fact there had not been a setback.
“Jaro’s not going to be around for the first two games, and then we’ll see from there,” Hitchcock said.
Elliott appeared in two games against the Kings this season and lost a 1-0 shootout March 23 in Los Angeles when Jeff Carter scored in the fourth round. He met with reporters before Hitchcock’s disclosure and downplayed his matchup with Quick, who had a 1.60 GAA and a .953 save percentage against the Canucks in the opening round.
“I think both team defenses are pretty strong, we’re back there and we’ll have to make a few saves here and there,” Elliott said. “It’s going to come down to small breakdowns, small decisions with the puck that might cost you.”
Specific dates for the Kings-Blues series won’t be announced until other first-round series are completed, so both teams have extra time to prepare.
The Blues are the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and the top seed remaining. But after bumping off the President’s Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in five games, the Kings are no ordinary No. 8 seed. Plus, they were 3-1 against the Blues in the regular season.
The 1-0 shootout was the last meeting between the teams. Hence, the predictions for a low-scoring series.
“When you beat the President’s Trophy winner, you become the No. 1 seed, and I think everybody knows that,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve just got to be on top of our game. If we’re on top of our game it’s going to be a great series.”
The Blues allowed the fewest goals in the NHL with a strong defense in front of Elliott and Halak. Forward David Backes, the team captain, on Monday was named a finalist for the Selke Award that goes to the best defensive forward.
Backes tied for the team lead with 54 points, was third-best on the team at plus-15 and led the team’s forwards in shorthanded ice time.
“I’m really proud of him because he personifies the way we want to play the game,” Hitchcock said. “I think that award, to be honest with you, is almost as valuable as the most valuable player award.”