Western Conference semifinals
Game 4, Kings vs. St. Louis Blues at Staples Center, noon (Kings lead series, 3-0)
Five storylines to track:
1. Broom town -- Sure, the Kings are up 3-0 for the second straight series, skating on home ice with another chance to sweep one of the top teams from the regular season. But a different aura surrounds this Game 4. It’s a sense of confidence, of domination and, yeah, the Blues are proving to be a lot more inferior than the Canucks. The St. Louis defense has more holes than an old pair of jeans, and goalie Brian Elliott is nowhere near the final obstacle that Cory Schneider proved to be in the Vancouver series. Throw in an offense that has been completely flummoxed by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and the recipe is ripe for a fourth straight victory.
2. Popular demand -- Kings defenseman Drew Doughty went to the Angels game Friday night, not to root for the home team but to support his beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Apparently, he and teammate Trevor Lewis were big hits with the crowd, going so far as to say it was the most attention they’ve received in public. The Kings have become part of the raging sports landscape in Southern California, right along with the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers and, to a lesser degree, the Angels. The volume should only increase if the Kings can advance to the Western Conference finals for just the second time in franchise history. That could go a long way toward keeping the Kings in the mainstream sports conversation beyond this spring.
3. Earning his keep -- St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock had the highest praise for Doughty following practice Saturday. He said the 22-year-old blueliner has been the best player in the series, a compliment that goes a long way considering how well Quick has played. Doughty had a backbreaking goal in the third period of Game 3 after earning a pair of assists earlier in the contest. The regular season didn’t unfold for Doughty quite the way many expected. He remained unsigned during training camp while negotiating the highest-paid contract on the team, and came up far short of the offensive numbers he produced two years ago, a watermark his representatives used in negotiations. It’s amazing how easily those shortfalls can be forgotten in the haze a standout playoff performance.
4. Power please -- The Kings ended an 0-for-30 skid on the power play in Game 3, getting a second-period goal from Mike Richards. They’re 4-for-42 overall in these playoffs, a percentage that normally wouldn’t hold up this long into the postseason. But the Kings have made up for some of their special teams futility by going 32-for-35 on the penalty kill and scoring four short-handed goals. A power-play goal or two in Game 4 could go a long way toward getting the Kings back on track, and maybe even help clinch this series.
5. Changing Blues -- The Blues can’t replace Elliott because their backup, Jaroslav Halak, is sidelined because of a sprained ankle, so they’re benching defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and replacing him with Ian Cole, and scratching winger B.J. Crombeen in place of Ryan Reaves, who’s best known in L.A. for dropping Kings forward Kyle Clifford in a one-punch fight last season. Let’s face it, the Blues don’t have that golden ticket waiting to be found. Vancouver swapped goalies after the first two losses against the Kings, and that did little to stem the tide.