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Quest for the Cup: Kings, Ducks and Bruins can advance; Sid vs. Mario

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer

Dustin Brown and the Kings can eliminate St. Louis with a win on Friday. (USATSI)
Dustin Brown and the Kings can eliminate St. Louis with a win on Friday. (USATSI)

More NHL: Scores | Standings | Odds | Fight-O-Meter | League Leaders | Rumors

First Star game of the Night

Game 6 (LA 3-2), St. Louis at Los Angeles 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

This series has more than lived up to the hype.

After the Kings dropped two in a row to open the series (in very frustrating fashion -- one in overtime on a bad giveaway by Jonathan Quick, the other in the final minute to a guy who had never scored a playoff goal in his career), they have started to look like the defending champs with three consecutive wins.

Even better for the Kings (and even worse for everybody else in the NHL) is that starting goaltender Quick is starting to look like last year's Conn Smythe winner.

Everybody will focus on his Game 1 gaffe, but he has been pretty spectacular during the rest of the series and owns a .942 save percentage in the series. He has been great.

He never should have been expected to maintain the same production that he had last year over a full season, but he was always better than his numbers looked this season. Perhaps he was still recovering from offseason surgery, or just some bad luck on his part, but it was clear something just wasn't right with him at the start of 2013.

With the way the Kings wear other teams down by owning the puck, it was only a matter of Quick returning to even a fraction of what he showed last season for this team to be a force in the Western Conference.

And now it's starting to happen.

Second Star Game of the Night

Capitals

Game 5 (tied 2-2), N.Y. Rangers at Washington, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN):

Even with three potential elimination games on the schedule for Friday, one of the best games on Friday just might be in Washington between the Rangers and Capitals. This series has the look of one that's going to go the distance.

The old cliche in sports is that a series doesn't officially begin until the home team loses a game. If that's the case, this one hasn't even started yet as the two clubs have held court on their home ice. The Capitals won the first two games in Washington and then dropped two in a row to even the series at New York.

The Rangers have finally started to break through on Braden Holtby a little bit after he shut them down in the first two games and outplayed Henrik Lundqvist.

Third Star Game of the Night

Game 5 (BOS 3-1), Toronto at Boston, 7 p.m. ET (NHLN):

The sad thing for the Maple Leafs is they played what was perhaps their best game of the playoffs in Game 4 and it still wasn't enough to even the series.

Thanks to David Krejci's hat trick and game-winning goal in overtime, Toronto enters Friday's game facing elimination in its first playoff appearance since 2004. If the Maple Leafs want to fight off elimination to see another game, it would probably be a good idea to keep giving ice time to guys like Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner and Clarke MacArthur, a trio of players who were among Toronto's best in Game 4, and less ice time to guys like Colton Orr.

Honorable mention

Game 6 (ANA 3-2), Anaheim at Detroit, 8 p.m. ET (CNBC)

It has been an interesting series that could easily be 3-2 in favor of Detroit, or over in favor of Anaheim. That's what happens when three of the first five games require overtime and the series is basically handed over to a coin flip.

Sometimes it comes up heads, and sometimes it doesn't.

It went the Ducks' way in Game 5 thanks to Nick Bonino's overtime goal, and they have a chance to move on and await the winner of the St. Louis-Los Angeles series with a win on Friday night in Detroit.

Snap shots

Sidney Crosby scored a beautiful goal on Thursday night in Pittsburgh's 4-0 win over the Islanders, and it reminded some of a similar goal that Mario Lemieux scored against the Islanders.

Minnesota coach Mike Yeo called the team's postseason appearance "an important step" for the franchise. [Michael Russo]

Michel Therrien and Paul MacLean were very complimentary toward each other after their series ended with an Ottawa win in five games. "Paul MacLean did a good job," Canadiens coach Therrien said on Thursday night. "I'm not going to deny that. He's a good coach, did a good job."

MacLean added that the series was fun and also complimented Therrien for his job with the Canadiens this season.

This was one of the more heated series in the first round, but the two teams managed to leave it on the ice once it was over. [Canadiens]

Five for Fighting

Every day, we'll have a top-five list that is pretty self-explanatory, all in this man's opinion. Today: The five most impressive teams throughout the opening round (so far).

5. Ottawa Senators: A lot of it is their goaltending. But when you're a No. 7 seed and can knock off the No. 2 seed in five games, that's a pretty big statement that you're not going to be a pushover in later rounds.

4. St. Louis Blues: Sometimes to go on a long postseason run you need a little luck. And sometimes luck is getting the right matchup in a series. For the Blues, they didn't get any such luck this year by drawing the Kings for a second straight year. They were a better team than their second-round exit showed last year. And if they're unable to come back and beat the Kings this year, their season will look worse than it actually was.

3. Chicago Blackhawks: I want to see how Corey Crawford does against a better offensive team than Minnesota. But if he can play like this and solidify what might be their only question mark, the Blackhawks are going to be a force.

2. Los Angeles Kings: Now that Jonathan Quick is getting back to being Jonathan Quick, the Kings are going to be a dangerous matchup for any opponent.

1. San Jose Sharks: This might be the year for the Sharks. They dispatched the Canucks in four straight games and have the look of a team that can go a long way this postseason.

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