Sure, it's premature to say the winner of this series determines this year's Stanley Cup victor, but it's not entirely crazy.
Both the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings are built for stereotypical "playoff hockey" -- strong goaltending, team-wide commitment to defense, and diligent forechecking and scoring spread over multiple lines. They're also two of the strongest teams of the eight remaining in the NHL playoff field.
The Blues dominated play for nearly the entire 2011-12 season, suppressing shots and getting franchise record-setting results from their goaltenders -- though they notably had trouble handing Los Angeles in several low-scoring meetings. An already formidable Kings squad rebounded after replacing Terry Murray with new coach Darryl Sutter, finally putting up better offense in front of Vezina candidate Jonathan Quick.
With both teams closely matched on defense and in goal, the series may come down to how their forwards perform matched against one another. David Backes and T.J. Oshie lead a balanced crop of two-way forwards on the Blues, while veteran Andy McDonald had a great first round and Patrick Berglund is coming into his own. Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown are complementary leaders for the Kings, while ex-Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter give the team a 1-2 punch for their top two lines.
Both teams' bottom-six forwards bring a lot to the table when matched against each other and when occasionally exposed to the opponent's stars.
Edge: Blues, but talk to me in seven games.
Each team is led by a cornerstone young defenseman supported by savvy veterans and further youngsters who are no slouches. For the Blues, it's rising star Alex Pietrangelo followed by shutdown specialists Roman Polak and Barret Jackman, as well as talented sophomore Kevin Shattenkirk.
For the Kings, it's instant Norris candidate Drew Doughty supported by warhorses Rob Scuderi, Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell, as well as promising youngsters Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov. In the trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets, this team experienced the rare addition by subtraction and addition: They got better not only by adding Carter up front, but by removing Jack Johnson from the equation and allowing the latter two defensemen regular roles.
Edge: Kings, but talk to me in seven games.
No question, the Blues goalie tandem of Jaroslav Halak (who is injured) and Brian Elliott put up jaw-dropping stats that earned them the Jennings Trophy. No question, Kings starter Jonathan Quick carried the load for a low-scoring team and rightfully earned his spot as a Vezina Trophy finalist.
Elliott has put up a season far better than anything he previously showed in his career. His big frame and composed style complements the Blues stingy defense well. Quick is more acrobatic with more highlight saves but has steadily improved -- and calmed -- his game each season. If you had to pick one from this group for a single-elimination game, Quick's your man.
KINGS WILL WIN IF: Quick steals a game, and they outlast the Blues.
BLUES WILL WIN IF: They stay healthy, and their goalies continue
It's absurd to say a series comes down to "who wants it more," but this series between evenly matched teams with similarly relentless forechecking -- and backchecking -- styles should be a test of wills, a test of endurance and, in the end, a reflection of who gets the right breaks at the right time.
The winner should have a great shot at the Stanley Cup ... if they have anything left after knocking off this second-round opponent.