Game 2, Blues/Kings: Will it be just as good as Game 1?
Some people claim that winning Game 2 in a series is more important than winning Game 1 - but this series may be different. It may be Game 3 that's the "must win" game. That doesn't mean any of the first 2 games weren't (aren't) important - but they were (are) important to each team for different reasons.
For the Blues, they had to win Game 1. A loss there would have been disastrous, as it would have given the Kings more momentum and planted that seed of doubt about whether the 'Note could really knock off the defending champs. Mission accomplished on Tuesday night, even if it was on a freak play that we probably won't see again in this series (or the playoffs). There's lots of reasons that the Kings can point to about why they should have won the game, and there's merit to them, but in the end talk is worthless. If you don't come out and play hard from start to finish, there's a decent chance you're going to be on the wrong side of the score at the end ... and the Kings can point to long stretches where they simply didn't put forth much effort or piddled away chances to score until late in the game when they finally displayed a sense of urgency.
I don't think Game 2 is "must win" for the Blues; arguably, it's not for the Kings either - but if I had to say "this team needs the win" it's Los Angeles. Sure, going back to Los Angeles down 2-0 wouldn't be the end of the world - but it would give the Blues another huge shot of confidence. It was clear Tuesday night that the Blues weren't scared or intimidated by the Kings; they went straight after guys and hit repeatedly, didn't back down from puck challenges, and confidence swelled with every extended shift spent making the Kings scramble after the puck on defense and having to dump it for an icing call to break the pressure. The mystique of "we've beaten you repeatedly, you know when we want to we can beat you" is gone.
At a minimum, the Kings need a much better start tonight. Another flat opening and a 1-0 lead by the Blues just gives them more confidence - and in the playoffs, confidence can carry a team a long way. (Right, Kings fans?) On the flip side, if the Blues can come out with the same physical play they should through the first two periods of last night and control the play with strong puck possession, winning a lot of the loose pucks, and weathering the storm when the Kings do get pressure in the Blues defensive zone, they have a really good shot of frustrating the Kings some more. Everyone expects the Kings to come out hard tonight; I certainly don't expect guys like Kopitar, Brown, Penner and Richards to play indifferently as they did in long stretches Tuesday night. The Blues definitely anticipate that and are likely preparing accordingly - but they also can't go back on their heels to start and wait for the Kings attack to come.
Sure, if the series goes to Staples Center tied 1-1, then the Kings are on home ice where they've been outstanding all season long ... but will that be enough to carry them? Can they really count on the Blues folding at this point? Going to LA tied 1-1 and coming back to St. Louis tied 2-2 wouldn't surprise me, nor should it surprise anyone else. If anything, I'll be more surprised if the Blues are up 2-0 going to the West Coast.
Things the Blues have to fix to win tonight
-- Convert chances. Steen potted a layup off of Quick's turnover, but the Blues can't count on that happening again. They simply have to bury chances they get when guys have a little room and the puck and a view of the net; they didn't do that Tuesday night, and when the Kings finally found the back of the net it was a 1-1 game instead of what could (should?) have been a 3-1 game.
-- The prevent defense. In the final minutes of the 3rd, you could just tell the Blues were playing to protect the lead and not really keep the pressure on the Kings and the puck away from Elliott - and that it was probably going to come back and burn them. Sitting on the lead is a dangerous tactic against good teams; the Blues have to be more aggressive in that situation and not let the Kings get momentum built up.
-- Pucks around Elliott. While the Kings got 29 shots off on net, there were probably a dozen other times where the puck was around the net in a dangerous situation. Sure, the Blues cleared most of those - but if they continually let that puck in those areas, bad things are eventually going to happen.
Things the Kings have to fix to win tonight
-- Top-line guys have to play like it. Kopitar was practically invisible in Game 1, Brown played indifferently way too often until late in the 3rd, and Carter wasn't much of a factor in the 2nd period and most of the 3rd. Sure, 3rd and 4th-line guys have provided sparks in the past, but they're not going to carry the team; if the better players aren't leading the charge, it's going to be incredibly difficult to stay in this series against a really motivated Blues squad.
-- Puck possession. It was terrible. Loose pucks, stickhandling, passing, ... the whole lot.
-- Faceoffs. If the Kings only win 36% of faceoffs again, they're going to spend a ton of time on defense - and as great as Quick can play, expecting him to do the lion's share of the work is a bad way to try and win games.
-- Limit physical play. The Blues played a rough, physical game Tuesday night, and it took a toll on guys. Sure, the Kings can hit back - but if the Blues are dishing punishment out again, there's a few guys on defense (Muzzin, Ellerby) who are going to get worn down by Game 4 from the repeated abuse.
Around the rest of the playoffs - quick observations from the other series currently underway:
Chicago vs. Minnesota: No Backstrom? No Pominville? The Hawks had a surprisingly difficult time in Game 1; if the Wild can swipe tonight's game, this series could get interesting in a hurry.
Anaheim vs. Detroit: Kind of weird watching the Red Wings on their heels in a playoff game, and the Ducks got surgical in attacking at times. I don't see this lasting long if Game 1 was an indication of things to come.
Vancouver vs. San Jose: I almost thought the Sharks were the Canucks and the Canucks were the Sharks. Really flat performance from Vancouver, and Luongo got little help. Game 2 just became "must win" for the Canucks.
Pittsburgh vs. NY Islanders: If that's how the Penguins are going to play in this series, it may be over in 3. The Islanders have to come out with more compete than they showed; they looked happy just to be there and got dominated most of the game.
Boston vs. Toronto: The Bruins dominated this game from start to finish. Apparently, Komarov didn't get the memo about not starting fights at the end of a game as part of the whole "message sending" thing - that died out around the same time it was legal to line up guys who were camped out in the slot and dish out a 2-handed cross check to the lower back.
Game time is 8:30pm Central tonight; I'll live blog the game again in the comments. Game notes will be posted below here later on this evening.