For the NHL Central Division, the Stanley Cup playoffs have been a mixed bag of results, to say the least. The Chicago Blackhawks looked to be in cruise control when they took a 2-0 series lead over the Minnesota Wild, but they were beat in nearly every area of the game in a Game 3 victory for the Wild.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues went up 2-0 on the Los Angeles Kings in their series, but have since dropped two straight games, and are headed back to Missouri tied at 2-2. Finally, the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks have alternated victories, with the Wings scoring a late overtime goal to send the series back to California tied at two games apiece.
With the topsy-turvy nature of the playoffs, it can be hard to get a read on which team has an edge in a series, and these Central series are no exception. With the Hawks still viewed as the favorites to win their series against the Wild, we will instead focus on the Wings and the Blues for the purposes of answering this question: between the two clubs, which one has the better chance of advancing to the second round?
If one is basing things strictly on perceived momentum, then you would have to side with the Wings. They fired 49 shots on goal in an offensive barrage on Monday night, and dominated nearly every facet of the game in the process. By contrast, the Blues have dropped two games in a row after sneaking away with victories in the first two games in St. Louis, and the Kings looked like they finally put their complete game together in their Game 4 victory.
On the other hand, both teams have been fairly tightly matched against their opponents, so perhaps the momentum angle isn’t going to provide a satisfactory answer to this question. Brian Elliott has been excellent for the Blues in net during this postseason, and they still can hang their hats on the defensive efforts that allowed the Kings only three goals in this series’ first three games. In addition to that, they are heading home for Game 5, whereas the Wings are heading out on the road to try to grab another victory at the Honda Center, which has been difficult for teams to accomplish this year.
In their defense, the Wings have been getting the job done on special teams. They have killed off 11-of-12 of the Kings’ power plays in this series, and have been allowing only an average of 27 shots per game. The Wings have been faring significantly worse in these areas, allowing 30.25 shots per game and coughing up five power play goals to the Ducks.
With those kinds of numbers floating around, it is easy to see that there is no simple answer to the question of who has the better chance of advancing between these two teams. In the end, the determining factor in choosing a “winner” in this debate is going to be a simple one: which team has looked most capable of turning back the advances of their opponent? By this metric, the answer is the St. Louis Blues.
Yes, the Kings have won two games in a row, and yes, the Kings thoroughly outplayed the Blues in the second and third periods of Monday’s game, but prior to that, the Blues have been doing a tremendous job of throwing Los Angeles off of their game. The Kings’ offense hasn’t been able to generate much of anything in the face of the Blues’ withering physical attack, and St. Louis’ offense has looked like it is capable of getting a lot of quality scoring chances. TJ Oshie looked fantastic on Monday night, scoring twice and skating like a man possessed. In addition, David Backes finally beat Jonathan Quick after trying for several games to do so, and his mix of physicality and scoring touch is a tough defensive assignment for the Kings to contend with.
Meanwhile, the Blues’ blue line depth is something that the Red Wings simply cannot match. Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk were both mentioned as Norris Trophy contenders for a reason, and they have both looked solid in their series with the Kings.
This is not to say that the Red Wings do not have a shot at beating the Ducks (they most certainly do), but if you were going to bet money on the outcomes of these series, wagering on the team with two home games remaining, as well as the team who has dominated more time against their opponent than the other, then the Blues would be the smart play.
James started out for The Hockey Writers covering the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, and has also covered the Chicago Blackhawks, served as NHL Correspondent, and is now a Managing Editor and the site’s NHL Central Blogger. He also writes for The Golf Writers.