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Kings and Blues can't help but like each other

HELENE ELLIOTT / ON THE NHL

The teams have similar styles and they play low-scoring games that feature solid goaltending.

April 26, 2012|Helene Elliott

ST. LOUIS — The Kings and the Blues have been so civil toward each other while preparing for the opener of their second-round playoff series Saturday in St. Louis, it's almost unnerving.

Aren't playoff opponents supposed to hate each other? Look at the hostility between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. Or between the Vancouver Canucks and whoever they play every year.

But there have been no verbal jabs between the Kings and Blues, no inflammatory quotes to incite a war of words. Lots of compliments and no criticism.

"Watch any of their games against the Canucks. They play hard every shift, they've got four lines that are willing to invest in the game," Blues captain David Backes said of the Kings. "Obviously their goaltending's fantastic as well.

"We like those types of games, those one-goal games that are low-scoring. That's our style. Hopefully we find some ways to solve Jonathan Quick. He's a good goaltender."

Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock was so generous he declared the Kings the top team in the West because they eliminated the No. 1-seeded Canucks. But he wasn't generous enough to give the Kings the home-ice advantage that comes with the top seeding, so the series will start in St. Louis on Saturday and Monday before moving to Los Angeles next Thursday and Sunday.

"When you beat the Presidents' Trophy winner you become the No.1 seed. I think everybody knows that," Hitchcock told reporters in St. Louis. "We've got to be on top of our game. I think if we're on top of our game, this is going to be a great series and I'm really looking forward to it."

There might be a simple explanation why the Kings and Blues haven't worked up a mutual hatred: They're so much alike, they almost have to respect each other.

They're built around the same principles. Each has exceptional goaltending — the Blues and Kings ranked 1-2 in team goals-against average this season — a defense that blends muscle with finesse and forwards who are well-schooled defensively.

They know how much effort is required to play a bruising but defensively disciplined game and are willing to make a full-on team commitment to play the tight, low-scoring style that carried them here. For the Kings to hate the Blues — or vice versa — almost would be self-loathing.

"I do think we match up very similar, the teams do," Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "They're both well-coached teams. Both got some speed up front and some size. Good defensive teams. Great goaltending. It's looking in the mirror."

Their similarities extend to their common beginnings and postseason futility.

Fellow members of the 1967-68 expansion, they're the only surviving "Second-Six" teams who haven't won the Stanley Cup. The Blues reached the finals in each of their first three seasons but were swept each time and never got back. The Kings won one game in their lone finals appearance in 1993, the only time they've advanced past the second round.

This season both teams made coaching changes. The Blues were 6-7 when they dismissed Davis Payne and brought in the more experienced, commanding Hitchcock. Despite losing skill players Andy McDonald, Alex Steen and David Perron to concussions for long stretches, Hitchcock guided the Blues to the Central Division title and No. 2 seeding.

Darryl Sutter succeeded Terry Murray behind the Kings' bench in December, when a two-goal game was a scoring spree. Sutter has prepared players and instilled a sense of urgency, pulling them out of an early hole of poor home performances while pushing them into the final playoff spot.

Kings center Colin Fraser, whose energy helped their fourth line play a key role against Vancouver, also sees many similarities between the teams.

"That's what we were talking about, how it's going to be a physical series because they're a physical team, we're a physical team. Very defensive team. I think we were 1-2 in the league in defensive numbers," Fraser said.

"Obviously you probably don't expect high-scoring games. But they're not going to be easy games. They're going to be very tough. Who's going to win the battles on the walls, and block shots. The little things are going to be huge in this series."

The civility probably will end with the opening faceoff Saturday, but the similarities won't.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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