Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Instead of a bang, Blues open Game 2 with a thud

Porous first period saw Los Angeles score
four times, win 5-2, open 2-0 series lead

ST. LOUIS -- Even down a game in the series to Los Angeles, Scottrade Center was buzzing and the Blues seemed to be full of life, ready to pounce on an opportunity to head on the road looking to tie the best-of-seven series.

But not even a minute into the game, the Blues were down, and by the end of the first period, they were left wondering what in the world happened.

Instead of knotting the Western Conference Semifinals with the Kings 1-1, the Blues head to LA down two games and in a world of trouble.

Instead of coming out with a sense of urgency needed trailing a series, the mistake-prone Blues were blasted by the Kings early and often. They were obliterated to the tune of four LA goals and the Kings have taken command of the series after hitting the Blues with a four-goal first period en route to a 5-2 win Monday night at Scottrade Center before 19,366 shell-shocked spectators.
(Getty Images)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (left) and defenseman Roman Polak (left) can't
stop the Kings' Justin Williams from scoring in the second period Monday.

Kings came into the Western Conference playoffs as the No. 8 seed. Tell that to, first, the Vancouver Canucks, and now, to the Blues.

The Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks are history, and the No. 2 Blues are on the verge of being bounced themselves.

Anze Kopitar scored twice, Mike Richards had a goal and an assist, Dustin Penner and Dustin Brown assisted on two goals and Jeff Carter added a goal -- all in the first period.

It was an avalanche of goals from the Kings, who outshot the Blues 15-6 and pinned the helpless Blues against the wall and turning them into a mistake-prone unit that is uncharacteristic of the team that led the NHL in goals against [165] during the regular season.

"This is the best time to play for sure," Richards said. "It's fun, it's intense. This is what you play for.

"We have 82 warmup games to play before the playoffs and you want to make the most of it when you get here."

Justin Williams finished with a goal and an assist and Brown collected three assists, while Jonathan Quick improved to 6-1 in the playoffs by stopping 27 shots.

"We got off to a good start," Brown said. "Scoring 30 seconds into the game helps. We didn't let off the gas at all."

The Blues, playing without top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who missed the game with an undisclosed lower-body injury after being hurt in Game 1, were a turnover-prone unit every time they seemed to touch the puck. And every time they made a mistake, the Kings were there to pounce.

"They scored four goals. It was pretty easy," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They were full marks. They checked us hard. They checked us hard and we coughed up the puck. We made mistakes.

"The playoffs is one loss, so you move on. I think there's some obvious things we have to address."

Los Angeles improved to 5-0 on the road in this year's playoffs and 7-0 dating back to last season.

"It seems like we simplify things on the road," Kings center Jarret Stoll said. "We got off to a great start tonight and that was important."

The Kings wasted little time grabbing the lead, when Richards snapped a shot home from the slot 31 seconds into the game when Penner picked Kevin Shattenkirk from behind in the Blues' zone, powered his way to the net before the puck caromed into the slot, beating Brian Elliott.

"The first goal was a perfect example ... the game's at a furious pace and we've just got to get it deep and we try and make an extra play," Hitchcock said. "We're trying to create something from nothing; next thing you know, we're picking it out of our net. That's an attitude. We're trying to force offense.

"The way we finished Game 1 is the same way we started Game 2. We're trying to force offense when it's not there. They're pressing up and we've just got to make them turn like we did in the second and third period. When you try to force offense, you try to play east-west. Against this team, they check too well, and they just turned the puck right up on us three times -- and two were in the net."

Then, Kopitar (twice) and Carter scored three times in a span of 5:27, with Kopitar giving L.A. a 2-0 lead with their fourth shorthanded goal after Brown intercepted Carlo Colaiacovo in the Blues' zone and fed Kopitar, who dangled around Elliott and tucked the puck into the back side with 5:44 left in the period. It was Brown's fourth shorthanded point in the playoffs, becoming the first player to do that since Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg had five points in 2008.

"We were putting some pretty good pressure on their defense," Kopitar said. "I was kind of reading the play and ready to jump in. The instincts kicked in. The way it went in, I was pretty happy with it. A pretty big goal, I guess."

Carter made it 3-0 with 1:23 left in the period when his initial shot rode off Roman Polak's stick, hit the Blues' defenseman in the face, and Carter collected the loose puck and roofed a shot from the slot.

Kopitar scored again with 16.8 seconds left in the period, backhanding a Williams pass for a 4-0 lead.

The last time the Kings scored four goals in a period in the playoffs was May 7, 1993 against Vancouver in the third period, when they scored five goals that period.

"I'm fine with [the offense] showing up right now," Brown said. "We have some big guys that are leaning on some defensemen of theirs that are probably on the smaller side."

The Blues felt pretty small after a lackluster first period.

"It's unacceptable, it's embarassing the way we came out in the first period," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "You can't give any team chances like that and expect to win a hockey game."

The Blues, who likely took a tongue-lashing from Hitchcock between periods, got an Andy McDonald goal 18 seconds into the second period, but Williams restored the Kings' four-goal lead when he backhanded a loose puck in the crease 1:26 into the second to make it 5-1.

Matt D'Agostini's first of the playoffs got the Blues closer at 5-2 when he sniped a shot to the short side off David Backes' second assist 5:16 into the third.

If the Blues were going to try and build off something heading into Thursday's Game 3 in Los Angeles, T.J. Oshie planted Penner in the Kings' zone with a clean hit that got players' blood flowing resulting in a Blues' power play, which has been futile this series.

"I think trying to give myself some life," Oshie said. "That's the first big hit I've had, I think [in the playoffs]. I need to be more physical. It's staple that's in my game, and it wasn't there in the first period and it needs to be from here on out."

However, the Blues, who had a two-man advantage for 1:35 of the game, were 0-for-9 on the power play in the game, 0-for-12 in the series and 0-for-26 against L.A. this season.

"Power play is costing us in a big way, so we're going to have to address that again," Hitchcock said. "It's hurting us. Shorthanded goals build a lot of momentum, take away a lot of momentum. We've had two shorthanded goals in two games taking away momentum ... careless play by us.

"Full marks to them. Their emotional investment in the first period was greater than ours. We started to play later, but you don't know how much they're sitting back and stuff like that so it's a hard read for them. Their goalie was good again. We pounded a lot of shots in the last two periods, but we only scored two goals. We've got to invest a lot more early in the game. That's the nice part about playoffs, it's one game, it's one loss. Move on."

The Blues head to L.A. now for two games, where they haven't scored a goal this season, being shut out twice.

"We've got some looking in the mirror to do, some regrouping and we need to make some changes," Backes said. "We're better. X's and O's or film, we've done that to death. It's about intestinal fortitude and coming together as a group and going to the hard areas and showing some cojones. They showed it for the first two games for the full 60 minutes and we didn't, and that's why we have an 0-2 hole to dig ourselves out."
(Getty Images)
Vladimir Sobotka (17) and the Blues are in a world of trouble against
Jarret Stoll (27) and the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference

"It is embarrassing with how excited the fans were," said defenseman Ian Cole, playing in his first-ever HL playoff game. "The potential that we had with how we responded in the first round of the second game, it is embarrassing to see the effort that we put forth. Speaking on a competitive basis, it just wasn't good enough. The coaches put together a good game plan, and it was our job to go out and execute it and be competitive and play through it. A goal on the first shift, we didn't play through it, we didn't respond well and they scored again, and then we responded worse than that, and they score a third time. We need to respond.

"We need to be mature enough to respond, and we responded terribly."

Hitchcock said he was hopeful with a couple days between games, Pietrangelo would be available for Game 3. Also, the Blues' coach ruled out goalie Jaroslav Halak (lower-body) for the remainder of the series.

"He tried it today and is still sore," Hitchcock said of Pietrangelo. "It's a big hole. Not a lot different if they lost [Drew] Doughty ... same thing. But with a full two days off, hopefully he's good to go [Thursday]. Unfortunately he couldn't go today, but we need him back in the lineup ... our job is to get this thing back to our fans here. That's our job. So we've got to win one of the next two games to get her back here.

"We've played awfully well on the road in the playoffs. It's only one loss, it doesn't feel good. The first period doesn't feel good. The way we played on the power play doesn't feel good, but we've got two days to regroup here and put our best forward. All you can do is ask for your best, and today wasn't our best. Today's first period was not our best. We need to make amends for ourselves."

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