When these two teams met last season, most people were expected long, hard-fought series. Instead, the Kings steamrolled the Blues in shocking fashion and swept them in four games. The rest as we know, is history, but why are the Kings being favored this year? A different team has won the Stanley Cup in each of the last nine seasons and I don't know if LA have it in them to go the distance again this time around. I expect a much better showing from St Louis this year and I expect them to win the series.
Goalies are always at or near the top of the list when it comes to "X-factors" in the NHL playoffs, but Jonathan Quick isn't the same goalie that he was last season. Is he capable of standing on his head and winning this series? Of course. The problem is he hasn't shown that kind of form for most of the year. Meanwhile, it's hard to imagine the Blues getting worse goaltending than they did in last year's playoffs. Elliot has shown some mental toughness by bouncing back from a rough start and he's played lights out down the stretch. That might not mean much when the bright lights are turned on, but it's an encouraging sign that the Blues will have something more reliable between the pipes in this series.
Let's consider some of the names that the Blues didn't have the last time these teams met in the playoffs. Bouwmeester, Leopold, Tarasenko, and Schwartz. We might as well throw Stewart's name in there too since he was out of shape and a non-factor last season. Combined, these guys compliment an already deep roster that boasts the likes of Steen, Berglund, Backes, McDonald, Perron, Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, and Jackman. There's even a chance Oshie returns to the lineup at some point.
During their cup run, the Kings got timely goals and great performances from players such as King, Penner, Lewis, and Stoll. There's no question the elite talent on the top two lines, but to win a series like this LA will need a repeat effort from their depth guys. It's not impossible they rise to the occasion again since they've done a superb job maintaining continuity in the lineup, but it's asking a lot.
The Kings have owned more puck possession than anyone else in the league at 57.35%, but the Blues are not far behind in 6th with 53.91%. Both teams have underachieved a bit with 991 and 994 PDO ratings respectively, so there isn't a whole lot that separates these two on paper.
The table is set for a slight letdown from LA this year and St Louis learned valuable lessons in 2012. With their new additions and home ice advantage, I think they advance to round two.
Prediction: St Louis ML for the series (+100)