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NHL playoffs preview: No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Kings

St. Louis' Blues Brian ElliottBrian Elliott and the Blues were 0-3 against the Kings this season, but may now have an edge. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

By Allan Muir

EAST PREVIEWS: Pens-Islanders | Canadiens-Senators | Capitals-Rangers | Bruins-Leafs

WEST PREVIEWSHawks-Wild | Ducks-Red Wings | Canucks-Sharks | Blues-Kings

Regular-season recaps

Feb. 11: Kings 4, Blues 1

March 5: Kings 6, Blues 4

March 28: Kings 4, Blues 2

Notable injuries

Blues: D Barret Jackman (lower body, day-to-day)

Kings: D Willie Mitchell (knee, out for season)

St. Louis' keys to victory

The Blues were rolled by the Kings in the regular season, dropping all three contests by a combined score of 14-7. So why should this series play out any differently? Consider that the St. Louis blueline has a new look since the teams last met on Mar. 28. Deadline acquisitions Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold have added depth and skill to a group that has allowed fewer shots on goal than any playoff team. It's no coincidence that the Blues went 11-3 after those deals, or that they've held opponents to a miserly one goal or fewer in 11 of those games. Brian Elliott, so porous in the early going, was the NHL's hottest stopper down the stretch, allowing just 16 goals in his final 13 starts. The Kings can testify to how far hot goaltending can take a team. The Blues give up some ground offensively to Los Angeles, but they do have a couple of interesting pieces in Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. St. Louis' speed and tenacity could give the Kings' defenders fits.

Los Angeles' keys to victory

They may carry the title of defending champs, but the Kings enter the playoffs lukewarm at best, winning just five of their final 10 contests. So, who are they? While they haven't gotten the goaltending they did last season, L.A. is still a very dangerous team led by a big, experienced defensive corps and a deep group of forwards that boasts five double-digit goal scorers, including the only true game-breaker in the series, 26-goal man Jeff Carter. But the Kings will win or lose this series along the boards. L.A. is the biggest team in the league, and it used that size advantage to great effect last spring, sapping the will of the opposition in a war of attrition the Kings were specifically built to win. The Blues are no pushovers, but their defense leans toward the fast-strike, frigate class, while the Kings employ a fleet of battleships up front. If they can establish their superiority along the boards, the Kings will take the series.

X-factors

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The pick

St. Louis in seven: Look for the Blues to take revenge after being humiliated by the Kings in last year's Western semis. This time around, St. Louis' hot goalie will be the difference. Elliott posted a .948 save percentage in April. Jonathan Quick, absent the mojo that earned him the 2012 Conn Smythe, has the worst save percentage of any starting goalie in the playoffs. Unless he regains his form quickly, the defending champs are going down.

MORE PREP: Staff picks | Upset alert | Key storylines | X-factors | Power Rankings | Schedule
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