Two long-time have-not franchises that took off after switching coaches midseason are among the last eight standing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues and Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings both have top-shelf goaltending and the two stingiest defenses overall.

Both teams dispatched their first-round opponents in five games, too, with relentless styles of play.

That leaves plenty of time to prepare for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night.

"If you look at the stats, the defense, the scoring, everything is very similar," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "We'll see what the difference is in the game."

The second-seeded Blues hadn't won a playoff game since 2004 before this spring. They're coming off their first series win since 2002, and are the top seed remaining in the conference under Hitchcock, who replaced Davis Payne in November after a 6-7 start and guided the franchise to its first division title since 2000.

The Kings knocked off the President's Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks for their first series win in 11 years. They won the season series in five games, too, under the hard-nosed Sutter, who replaced Terry Murray in December.

"L.A. plays nasty, they play real nasty," Hitchcock said. "They follow the coach's orders, and they finish all their checks. They play with a level of commitment to physical play that's going to be a challenge for any team."
Associated Press