Saturday, April 28, 2012

Blues lose opener, Pietrangelo against Kings

3-1 setback in Game 1 is secondary to
defenseman's injury following questionable hit

ST. LOUIS -- Judging by the early goings of the Blues' first game of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings, it didn't appear as if they lost a beat.

The Blues were hungry, they were relentless, they were buzzing around the Kings' end of the ice and were knocking on Jonathan Quick's doorstep.

Quick is a Vezina Trophy finalist for a reason. The Kings' goalie was their savior in Game 1.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Andy McDonald (10) is denied by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick
in the opening minute of Saturday night's conference semifinal game.

Quick's key saves in the early going enabled the Kings to avoid allowing the Blues to build an insurmountable lead. Instead, L.A. was able to stay close and wrestle home ice away from the second-seeded Blues. Defensemen Slava Voynov and Matt Greene scored their first career playoff goals and Quick stopped 28 shots as the Kings beat the Blues 3-1 on Saturday night at Scottrade Center to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

David Backes scored and Brian Elliott stopped 26 shots for the Blues, who hadn't played since eliminating San Jose a week ago.

"It was a great win," said Quick, who is 5-1 with a 1.49 goals-against average and .955 save percentage in the playoffs. "We get to enjoy it for five minutes and then focus on Monday."

The Blues came out like they hadn't missed a beat, with no week-long layover visible for most of that first period. They took the game's first six shots and grabbed the lead when Perron deflected Alex Pietrangelo's wrist shot past a screened Quick 9:16 into the game for a 1-0 lead.

It was the first goal the Blues scored against the Kings in 105:38 dating back to Jamie Langenbrunner's goal on Feb. 3.

If not for Quick, the Blues could have run away with the game in the early going. He robbed Andy McDonald twice from point-blank range in the game's first minute, then kicked out B.J. Crombeen's backhand effort with 8:18 left in the period to keep it a 1-0 game.

"We were able to kind of weather the storm a little bit, they got one early but we were able to get one back at the end of the first and we continued strong play through the last two periods," Quick said. "Whenever you're on the road no matter what time of the year it is, you expect the other team to come out flying in the first 10 minutes on home ice like that. This team is no different obviously. They're one of the best teams on home ice for a reason and that first 10 minutes really put us on our heels for a little bit but we weathered the storm and were able to tie it up at the end of the first."

Added Kings captain Dustin Brown: "That's the advantage of having a guy like that in the net. Early in the game, we needed him to make some big saves and he did. We grinded the rest of the game out and get a 'W.'"

Quick's heroics enabled the Kings to get their legs -- and they got the equalizer when Voynov snuck in from the point to convert Dustin Penner's centering feed with 3:02 left in the period after a Barret Jackman turnover. Penner took the puck away from Jackman along the right boards and slid a pass across the slot to Voynov, who buried it past Elliott for the Kings' first goal against the Blues in 147:47, dating back to Willie Mitchell's third-period goal here on Nov. 22.

It was also the first playoff goal by a Kings defenseman since Alexei Zhitnik scored one in 1993.

"I think killing the penalty for us the first period [a cross-checking penalty on Mike Richards] was probably the biggest difference in the game," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "They came out exactly the way they wanted to come out. The building ... the way it always is in St. Louis, they had lots of energy early."

The Blues came out of the first period feeling like they played like they wanted but with a 1-1 score, it wasn't the result they were looking for.

"First period was exactly what we needed," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We just didn't ... we made a couple mistakes on the first goal, played a great first period, but then I thought we kind of exited the game after that.

"We did what we needed to do in the first period and then we deferred. We moved the puck trying to look for the next play rather than funnel the puck. We're supposed to funnel like we did in the first period, but then we deferred in the second."

Winger Alex Steen agreed.

"The beginning of the game, we certainly had some chances, had some good zone time, some buzz," Steen said. "We couldn't get the puck to really go. We had the one, but then after that, they kind of took over there as this game went on. We spent some time in the box and couldn't really get any momentum."

The Kings took the lead with their third shorthanded goal of the playoffs when Greene popped in a loose puck at the side of the net with 1:03 left in the second period. The Blues won an offensive zone faceoff following a Dwight King boarding penalty that only drew two minutes for pushing Pietrangelo into the corner boards from behind. But the puck skipped past Kevin Shattenkirk and Dustin Brown was off to the races. Elliott stopped Brown's initial shot, but Greene was there to lift home the rebound for a 2-1 lead. Greene’s shorthanded goal was just the second by a defenseman in Kings playoff history. Rob Blake had one in 1993.

"That's not my job," Greene said. "Just kind of got lucky on the play, I was following it up. I took a chance. Brownie had a jump there. I was looking for a drop or maybe to be a decoy. The puck was laying there. I just tried to chip it."

Pietrangelo, whose head hit the boards, left the game and did not return. The Blues said Pietrangelo, who leads the team in ice time during the playoffs at 26:15, would be re-evaluated Sunday. They were not happy with the call.
(Getty Images)
Blues winger B.J. Crombeen (26) battles for the puck with the Kings' Colin
Fraser (left) Saturday night.

"Obviously it's a dangerous hit," McDonald said. "He goes in and those are the types of hits that guys get hurt really bad. I haven't talked to him or I don't know his condition, but hopefully he's OK. I was surprised to [only] see two minutes."

Hitchcock wasn't given much of an explanation.

"They said it was a two-minute penalty," Hitchcock said of referees Eric Furlatt and Stephen Walkom. "That's what they said.

"Why don't we let the league decide if there's anything there. We're more concerned about the player. ... We'll evaluate [Pietrangelo] tonight and give you an update tomorrow."

King was defending himself afterwards.

"I mean I didn't really try to put a lot of force into it obviously ... I guess obviously you never like to see a guy go out that way but obviously on our play we took advantage on the PK and it kind of [swung] the game," King said. "We were both going for the puck. It was kind of slow obviously. I tried to position myself a little bit on the inside of him and when I did that, I leaned on him and I guess he was off-balance and fell in."

Kay Whitmore, the NHL supervisor of officiating for Blues-Kings series, offered a statement involving the play.

"Their judgement of the degree of violence ... they deemed it a minor penalty and that's why they called it a minor," Whitmore said. "It's their judgement. They see the whole play unfold and they didn't deem in this instance obviously that King drove [Pietrangelo] into the boards. It was a hit, he was in a vulnerable position, but they didn't deem it violent enough to call a major."

As far as the aftermath with Pietrangelo being cut, Whitmore was asked if that warranted a five-minute major.

"In these situations, if a player is cut to the face, and it's visible right away, instantly, they'll call a major ... in most cases," Whitmore said. "In this case, they didn't see the cut, the small cut, under his chin from what I've been told until up to a minute or so after when they were over by the bench. So it was a delay, a period of time that went by, and it's tough for them to go over and say, 'It's a major now' ... because they didn't see it after the scrum.

"[Pietrangelo] got off the ice. There was no visible blood. If it was running down his forehead or his cheek, it's automatic. It's a major game-misconduct. In this instance, they didn't see it initially right away. They didn't see the blood running down his chin, in his beard ... one of those things."

Whitmore said it's up to the NHL if the play is reviewed.

"I expect Brendan [Shanahan's] group watches, as do our guys in Toronto ... every goal is reviewed, every hit is reviewed," Whitmore said. "So I don't see this any different than any other hit in the playoffs up to this date. So I'm sure if something more needs to be done with it, Brendan and his group will be taking a look at it."

The Blues were never able to mount much of a third period rally after having to kill eight minutes in penalties in a stretch of 8:47.

"When you play Los Angeles, there's a price to pay to win," Hitchcock said. "There's a high price to pay. If we expect to win the next game, we're going to have to pay a bigger price than the one we paid. I don't just mean physical play. I mean they defend well, they keep you to the outside, they've got big defensemen and what happened in the first period was we got to the inside, we worked hard to get there and then we allowed ourselves to stay to the outside.

"Once they got the 2-1 lead, they kept everything to the outside and we shot ourselves in the foot in the third period with penalties."

Penner's empty-netter with 14.2 seconds sealed another road win for the Kings, who are 4-0 away from Staples Center in the playoffs.

"I think we're comfortable playing on the road," Greene said. I think in the last two seasons we've had to make a pretty good stretch run to make the playoffs and you've got to win a lot of those games on the road and a lot of that is just goaltending. Quickie has given us some good minutes back there and great games and he kept us in there in the first and we were lucky to rebound after that."

The Blues were in this position when they dropped the first game against San Jose in the first round.

"I think we did everything we wanted to do in the first period," McDonald said. "We generated a lot of chances, but it fell apart after that. There were a lot of areas where we were lacking. They were harder on pucks. We weren't getting into those hard areas in front of their net. [Quick's] a good goalie over there, but we've got to make it tough on him. There's times where we could have put more pucks on net. Obviously we have to improve. ... We know we can play better."

Added Steen: "It's Game 1. It would have been nice to get off to a good start, but we didn't. We'll move on, focus on the next game like we did the last series."

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