Before the Stanley Cup playoffs last year, the Blues and Kings had only met twice in post-season play, and St. Louis swept both series, defeating Los Angeles 4-0 in the semi-finals of 1969 and the quarter-finals of 1998. The hockey gods deemed it necessary for the Kings to sweep the Blues in four games in 2012, and Blues Nation is now aware that lesson was necessary for the Note to learn what it truly takes this time around and return the favor. And that the Blues did in game one on Tuesday, defeating the Kings at their own game, winning in overtime on Alexander Steen's short-handed tally. Los Angeles was 4-0 in overtime during last season's run to the Cup.
If only this year's edition of the Blues can continue to play like the 1969 St. Louis Blues. Led by 40-year old Jacques Plante (who shared a Vezina Trophy with 37-year old Glenn Hall as the league-best goaltenders), the Blues zipped past Philadelphia in the opening round, sweeping them 4-0 and outscoring them 17-3. The Kings barely made the playoffs (58 points in 76 games), but somehow won their opening round, upsetting the Oakland Seals in seven games. Los Angeles was led by slick center Eddie Joyal, who set up line mates Ted Irvine (who later played for the Blues) and the popular All-Star Bill "Cowboy" Flett. The defense was led by veterans Bill White (who went on to become an All-Star with Chicago), Brent Hughes (who also played for St. Louis) and big Dale Rolfe, who later starred for the New York Rangers. Beleaguered rookie goaltender Gerry Desjardins saw better years later in his career with Chicago and Buffalo.
Plante tended goal for the Blues in all four games against Los Angeles, allowing five goals against. "Jake the Snake" was ably assisted by a strong defense corps that included Barclay, Bob, and Billy Plager, Noel Picard, Jimmy Roberts, Jean-Guy Talbot and a bespectacled Al Arbour. Up front, right winger Gary Sabourin led the way with six goals and 11 points in 12 total playoff games, while legendary center Red Berenson tallied seven goals and 10 points, along with the illustrious Frank St. Marseille, Terry Crisp (now the television announcer for the Nashville Predators), Camille ("The Eel") Henry, Ab McDonald and Larry Keenan (who scored the first goal in Blues' history). The Blues easily took Game 1, 4-0, and never looked back. Game 2 was the closest contest at 3-2. In Los Angeles, the Blues routed the Kings 5-2 and 4-1 to advance to the Finals against the Montreal Canadiens. The magic ended, of course, when the Blues were swept 4-0 by the mighty Habs.
The 1998 Blues team was a powerhouse assembled by GM Larry Pleau. Goaltender Grant Fuhr played all but 14 minutes in ten playoff games (Jamie McLennan was the back-up) in front of a defense headlined by Al MacInnis, captain Chris Pronger, Steve Duchesne, Todd Gill and Marc Bergevin (now the GM in Montreal). None other than right winger Jim Campbell led the Blues in post-season scoring, notching seven goals and ten points. Close behind were left winger Geoff Courtnall, center Pierre Turgeon, and Pavol Demitra and Brett Hull, who both had three goals and six assists in ten games. Defensive specialists at forward included Terry Yake (currently head of the Blues Alumni), Scott Pellerin, Craig Conroy and Mike Eastwood. Bruiser Kelly Chase also appeared in seven games. That season Chase won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community. This was Joel Quenneville's second season as coach of the Blues, and the last season in which Brett Hull would wear the Bluenote.
The Blues romped in game one against the Kings in St. Louis, winning 8-3. Campbell, Turgeon and Demitra scored two goals each, Brett Hull scored one and added three assists and Geoff Courtnall had a six point night with five assists. Game two turned into a defensive battle between Fuhr and Kings' goaltender Jamie Storr. Campbell and Pronger scored to give the Blues a hard-fought 2-1 victory. Game three in Los Angeles was a back-and-forth battle, yet the Blues prevailed as Pascal Rheaume, Hull, Campbell and Yake scored in a 4-3 Blues win. St. Louis won another close contest in game four as Fuhr out-fought Stephane Fiset in another 2-1 barn-burner. Demitra and Conroy scored timely goals as the Blues swept the series and advanced to face the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit would win that series, four games to two, the decisive contest occurring in game three in St. Louis, in which the Red Wings won in two overtimes on a goal by Brendan Shanahan. Chris Osgood made 33 saves in that game while Fuhr stopped 42 of 45 shots.
If the Blues continue to play like they did Tuesday against the Kings, another sweep is entirely possible. Led by the C-P-R line (Cracknell, Porter and Reaves, all graduates of the Peoria Rivermen) with 18 hits, the Blues truly learned their lesson from last season's playoff bout with the Kings and simply out-worked Los Angeles to earn a truly hard-fought victory.