Since we last tangled with the St. Louis Blues...
IN: Chris Stewart. Alex Pietrangelo has some pain but no apparent structural damage to his knee, and is expected to play.
OUT: Jaroslav Halak (ankle) is out for the series, and Jason Arnott has a lower body injury (Blues); Kyle Clifford, Andrei Loktionov (Kings)
Enemy reading: St. Louis Game Time
Hitchcock continues his line-shuffling in an attempt to find an answer for the Kings: D'Agostini is promoted to the top line, and Perron shifts down to the third to shore up the loss of Jason Arnott.
In Pietrangelo's absence, the bulk of the defensive ice time was taken by Shattenkirk (who played 28 minutes), and the so-called third pairing of Russell and Polak, who also fared well. The Blues will now rely on Barrett Jackman to help Pietrangelo out instead of Colaiacovo, though Jackman had a particularly rough night in Game 2. In less than ten minutes of even strength ice time, he was minus 14 Fenwick (shot attempts that got through the D). That was ten more against than any other player on the team -- which meant a lot of offensive zone time for LA. We'll see if the Kings can exploit that.
Hitchcock has relentlessly beaten the drum of optimism leading up to tonight, and why not? They need a mental boost, and no one should forget that they are one of the NHL's top teams. An avalanche of hype has come the Kings' way, but 'you don't win nothing for two.' The Blues are still dangerous.
For the Kings, Penner's wit and offensive resurgence have drawn a lot of attention, but I'm more encouraged by the play of his linemates. Jeff Carter's ankle, clearly hampering him before, looks a lot better. Mike Richards, who seemed to have been banged up in game 2 of the Vancouver series, also looks to be back in form. Against a deep team like the Blues, they need stellar contributions from everyone.
The Kings are going to have to turn in a much better performance in Staples Center than they did against Vancouver if they hope to close this out at home. The crowd will be rocking and ready to cheer them on -- but nothing's over yet.
The puck drops early at 7. Let's do this!