Much of the pre-series attention has been put on the defensemen and goalies, and rightfully so, given that the Kings and Blues are both deep and strong on the back end. But don’t be surprised if the matchup at center is a huge determining factor in the series. St. Louis can line up David Backes, Patrik Berglund and Jason Arnott on its first three lines, while the Kings counter with Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll. How, exactly, those lines will match up against each other remains to be seen, and it might not matter that much. The Blues basically have 1a and 1b lines, with Backes and Berglund, and Darryl Sutter seems comfortable simply rolling his lines and letting the matchups fall where they may. Of course, in St. Louis, Ken Hitchcock gets the final line change, so it will be interesting to see what matchups he desires.
STOLL: “They can all make plays and they’re all pretty offensive guys, so we’re definitely going to have to neutralize that and do a good job in the faceoff circle. Puck possession is going to be key, and getting in on the forecheck and not let those guys get the puck through the middle of the neutral zone.’’
How big of a role will Backes play in the series? He led the Blues with 24 goals in the regular season — and also had 30 assists in 82 games — and in the first-round series against San Jose, Backes had one goal in five games. Hitchcock said he’s looking for more from Backes, his captain.
HITCHCOCK: “The first thing he has to do is trust his linemates a little more. Secondly, he’s got to play more reckless. He played safe. Playing against Joe (Thornton) is no day at the beach. Joe was dialed in and Joe was playing for his life, and he was a terrific player in our series. David had his hands full. The other thing is, sometimes 5-on-5, with as much as David plays on the power play and he plays killing penalties, sometimes 5-on-5 is almost a rest. We want to get him past that, where he is really contributing more 5-on-5 because he’s back playing a little more reckless, and not so careful. He plays reckless on the power play, which is great and helps us. He’s obviously a great penalty-killer. We just want him to trust his linemates and not be kind of the safety net that he thinks he has to be all the time.’’
Another interesting subplot could be Backes vs. Dustin Brown, even if their lines don’t end up getting matched against each other frequently. The two captains both play hard-nosed games and have the ability to impact a series on multiple fronts.
BROWN: “I think we both play in all situations and we’re both physical. I think it’s important for myself to have an impact physical, especially on some of their skilled defensemen. They have a lot of defensemen that can move the puck. I’m sure he will be trying to do the same to ours.’’