ST. LOUIS (AP) — Two long-time have-not franchises that took off after switching coaches midseason are among the last eight standing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues and Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings both have top-shelf goaltending and the two stingiest defenses overall. Both teams dispatched their first-round opponents in five games, too, with relentless styles of play.
That leaves plenty of time to prepare for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night.
"If you look at the stats, the defense, the scoring, everything is very similar," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "We'll see what the difference is in the game.
"I'm sure there's going to be differences that show up once we have to play each other six, seven times or whatever it's going to be."
The second-seeded Blues hadn't won a playoff game since 2004 before this spring. They're coming off their first series win since 2002, and are the top seed remaining in the conference under Hitchcock, who replaced Davis Payne in November after a 6-7 start and guided the franchise to its first division title since 2000.
"It's normal that people are putting us in there, but there's also seven other teams that think the same as us," Blues forward David Perron said.
One of them is the eighth-seeded Kings, who knocked off the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks for their first series win in 11 years. They won the season series 3-1, too, under the hard-nosed Sutter, who replaced Terry Murray in December.
"L.A. plays nasty, they play real nasty," Hitchcock said. "They follow the coach's orders, and they finish all their checks. They play with a level of commitment to physical play that's going to be a challenge for any team."
That sound just like what's coming from the opposing locker room.
"You play these guys every time, you're leaving the game beat up," Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. "They grind you. They're not high scoring, but definitely some action."
The biggest stars are in the net.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, set a franchise record with a league-leading 10 shutouts and had a 1.59 goals-against average in the first round while allowing just eight goals in 172 shots. He shut out the Blues twice in the regular season, the last time a 1-0 shootout victory March 22 at Los Angeles.
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