Hockey Gods and Kings-Blues

Here are a few notes to ponder as you enjoy the LA-St. Louis series.

First, teams that knock off the President’s Trophy winner tend to do well in the playoffs, but not to win the Stanley Cup. To take recent history in point: to go back to 2003, teams who have knocked off the winner have themselves won the Cup just once, that being New Jersey in 2003.

The next three years, teams which beat the President’s Trophy winner went on to the Finals, but lost (Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa). Jokesters might note that this suggests that Canadian teams who overachieve don’t have the moxy to press on and finish the job. Hmm.

Teams which have beaten the league’s best regular-season team over three of the past four years (nobody did it last year until the Finals, which Vancouver obviously reached and lost) have gone on to somewhat surprising results, including Montreal, who went to the third round in 2008, and Anaheim, who pushed Detroit to seven games in round two in 2009. The seventh game that was tied as late as the third minute from the end.

So what does this predict for LA? That they’ll take the Blues out and go on to another series. That they’ll take the Blues to seven games but lose a tight one at the end. Or, if the history of the earlier part of the last decade holds true, that the Kings will end up in the Finals for the Stanley Cup, only to lose.

What’s with the trophy-killers and bad luck? To answer that, you have to first say whether you believe in the hockey gods. If you don’t then shame on you. Anyone who knows the story of Bill Barilko will say that they live. (See my book, My Country Is Hockey for that story). But do they care who knocks off the best regular-season team?

Personally, I don’t think so, and it’s much more likely that some result you couldn’t anticipate at all will befall LA as the present series with St. Louis goes on. But then again, if they do care, then one thing you can say is that this will not be a mediocre, five-and-out for LA. On the other hand, the fact that the giant killers never seem to win it all themselves may be worth pondering. Of course, it might also simply be that their having to play the higher seed in the first place means they were never a favorite going into the playoffs or at any point along the journey.

So are you willing to accept, Kings fans, the “they did better than they were expected to” tag this year? Will going to the Finals and losing, again, be enough?

And for those who see the Blues as “in a hole” with the first game having gone like it did, of course they are, but no different a one than they were in in the last series, when they also went down 1-0. They shook it off and won four straight. The difference this time, of course, will come if their best defenseman (and to some, best player), Alex Pietrangelo, has a concussion (which will keep him from playing) or not.

If the league happens to decide that Dwight King needs to be suspended for his hit on Pietrangelo, that effects the Kings not a bit, really, as their core will not be touched. But for the Blues, it creates a gap. Is Ken Hitchcock big enough to fill that gap.

Now, before you jump on that bad joke, listen: I mean, is Hitchcock’s influence large enough to will his players on with this guy out of the lineup? I say yes. Already after last night, he was spinning it, with comments to the effect of “we can’t use this as an excuse for our last 30 minutes of play” being used.

This guy has tight control over his players, and to use the business cliché, “he stays on message” would hardly be wrong. Hitch knows what he wants, he demands it wherever he goes, and he’s mostly been pretty successful. Plus, he’s been through the playoff thing before. His team, further, has been there, done that. They haven’t had the greatest success of late, but anyone with a slightly long memory will know that they were in the playoffs year after year for decades. Modern players might not know, or care, that the Blues went to the Finals year after year in the immediate post-expansion era (after 1967), but the signs and banners and sense of history have to be present, not just physically in the Blues’ arena (I’ve been there, but years ago), but also in the ethos of the franchise.

So what’s going to happen? The goalies are going to tighten it up even more, a few games are going to go to OT, and the Kings will win or not depending upon whether the hockey gods have had their Tim Horton’s. Speaking of whom, there’s a legend to be talked about there, but that’s for another time.

Follow me on Twitter @growinguphockey and I promise few tweets, but good ones. Read the book if you can: My Country Is Hockey.

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