Kings, St. Louis Blues may stretch playoffs

ST. LOUIS — If ever an NHL playoff series should be sponsored by Starbucks, it surely would be the one featuring the Kings and the Blues.

The bar was set when they didn’t score in their last meeting, on March 22, needing four rounds of a shootout to decide the issue. Kings Coach Darryl Sutter joked the other day that without a shootout they might still be playing that game.

Game 1 is tonight in St. Louis and the fear of multiple overtimes is well-founded, keeping in mind the defensive prowess of the teams and the considerable talents of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, a Vezina Trophy finalist, and his Blues’ counterpart, Brian Elliott.

Purists embrace the absence of the shootout when it comes to playoffs. Even some purists, however, embrace the concept of sleep, which may be in short supply after Kings-Blues games.

Thankfully, the 4:30 p.m. PDT opener won’t be played on a school/work night. And starting in St. Louis does have another benefit, as Kings left wing Dustin Penner cheerfully noted: “The good news for our fans out here in the West is that they don’t have to go to bed yet.”

The goalies undoubtedly will be front and center in this Western Conference semifinal series. In fact, Sutter was talking with his coaching staff about three young goalies in the West — Quick, Elliott and the Coyotes’ Mike Smith.

“You’ve got three goalies in the final four on this side that are really young unproven guys with very limited winning experience at playoff level,” Sutter said. “That’s usually the way it happens. It’s no different than [Miikka] Kiprusoffin Calgary. He became a playoff goalie based on playoff success.”

This will be the third playoff series between the Kings and Blues, and the Blues swept both, in 1969 and 1998. The eighth-seeded Kings, who are attempting to advance past the second round for the first time since 1993, gave up eight goals in their first-round series against the Canucks, exactly how many the second-seeded Blues gave up to the Sharks.

The Blues suffocated the likes of San Jose’s Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, holding them without a point in five games. Pavelski historically had been a major source of playoff production with 10 points in 18 games a year ago and 17 in 15 games in 2010. St. Louis put the line of David Perron-David Backes-T.J.Oshie on Pavelski’s line the first two games of the Sharks-Blues series.

Sutter coached twice against the Blues this season — the Kings’ 1-0 victory in the March 22 shootout and when the Blues beat the Kings, 1-0, on Feb. 3 in St. Louis.

Those games were noteworthy regarding the lack of offense but weren’t representative of the Blues’ roster. Missing were injured forwards Alex Steen and Andy McDonald. They were major factors in the Sharks’ series, when McDonald recorded eight points and Steen three.

“It puts two, top six forwards [back] in the lineup which makes a big difference,” Sutter said. “And if they do play together — both those boys can play all three positions, right?

“Steen is more of a Selke-type player. He can play both sides of the puck really well … Andy has got some significant playoff experience with really good numbers.”

Those numbers helped Anaheim win the Stanley Cup in 2007 when McDonald scored 10 goals and added four assists for the Ducks. Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock was well aware of McDonald’s skill set but wasn’t as knowledgeable about the forward’s edginess.

“I think he brings a competitive fire that has rubbed off on everybody,” Hitchcock said. “Without him and Alex Steen in the lineup, we would have had a difficult time against San Jose.

“He’s given us a second line, given us a threat on the power play. He’s a dynamic player and plays way bigger than his size. You’re afraid to play against him.”

Hitchcock said his goalies — Elliott and Jaroslav Halak — played their best hockey when the Blues were struggling on offense. Halak (ankle) has been ruled out of the first two games of the series

“I think both guys played good all year,” Hitchcock said. “And there were stretches where they played great. They played their best hockey when we didn’t score any goals and held us in.”