LOS ANGELES - St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock isn't sure how this low-scoring NHL Western Conference quarter-final series with the Los Angeles Kings is being received by fans. But for coaches, it's been a work of art.
"I get texts from coaches, from people who just admire the way this series is being played right now," Hitchcock said as his team prepared for Game 6 Friday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 10 p.m. ET). "This is just a highlight-reel series for coaching.
"If you want to see how to exit under pressure, if you want to see how to counter under pressure, if you want to see how to fight for space to create scoring opportunities, this is a series that can really teach you about those qualities."
"There's just a lot of good things from a coaching standpoint going on in this series."
It's not a series that teaches you how to fill the net with pucks. There have been 19 goals in five games, 10 for the Kings, nine for the Blues. As a result, some have suggested the series has lacked excitement.
"I think those guys should just come and stand on the bench for a period and try to get line changes going when you can barely keep up," Hitchcock added. "[They should] stand there when the glass moves nine inches and see people on other side of the glass who are scared because the hits are so hard.
"They ought to come and stand on the glass or in the second row and see how they like the game."
Kings winger Kyle Clifford was nowhere to be seen during the Kings' morning skate Friday, leaving one to speculate whether he would be in the lineup later that night. Sutter was quick to caution such speculation with some humour.
"He was out there," joked Los Angeles head coach Darryl Sutter. "He gets here before you guys. Then he was doing a GEICO commercial, then he was doing the weather for Channel 4 this morning up in the helicopter."
More seriously, Sutter added: "He had a, what does Hitch call it? - maintenance day, day of the game."
In other words, Clifford could be in the lineup alongside Colin Fraser and Tyler Toffoli for Game 6. But don't be surprised to see Jordan Nolan take his place.
Shaking things up
A shallow earthquake was reported in the area on Thursday afternoon. Fraser said he felt the rumble.
"I've felt a couple now [in my two seasons in L.A.]," Fraser said. "It's kind of a weird feeling. On the first one, I didn't know what was going on. I never had felt one until I came down here."
Fraser said he also has a good feeling for what the Kings needed to do Friday night.
"I know it's the old cliché, but you've got to have that good start," Fraser said. "They're do-or-die, their backs are against the wall. Every game has been a one-goal game, so we have to break their spirit early."
Rambunctious Kings forward Trevor Lewis agreed.
"We know they're going to come out and throw everything at us," he said. "I think we've got to match and exceed their intensity and just make sure we're taking care of business the way we know how. We know that the fourth game's always the toughest to win, so we've got to make sure we're prepared for it."
The line of Lewis, Dustin Penner and Jarret Stoll was the Kings' best forechecking punch in Game 5.
"I think that's kind of our role, is to be hard, energy and get on the forecheck and kind of tire them out," Lewis said. "I think last game we did a pretty good job at it. I think a big key to it is if we're quick out of our zone, we have lots of energy in the offensive zone. We've got to make sure we're getting back quick and helping our [defence] out and getting back up the ice quick.
Goalies ahead of the game
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has been around the NHL block a few times. He's coached 1,158 regular-season games and accumulated 605 wins. He said the biggest difference in the level of play over the years is between the pipes.
"When each team is averaging eighteen to twenty scoring chances a game, which is what is happening in this series, those are good things, those are exciting chances," he said. "But to me the goalies are just so good in the game right now ... They're just lights-out ahead of everybody else in the game.
"That position has improved the most of any position in our sport in the last 10 years."
Game 6 lineups
Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Dwight King-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis
Jordan Nolan-Colin Fraser-Tyler Toffoli
Robyn Regehr-Drew Doughty
Rob Scuderi-Alec Martinez
Jake Muzzin-Slava Voynov
Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Alexander Steen
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart
Adam Cracknell-Chris Porter-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Jordan Leopold-Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
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