Thursday, March 28, 2013

Richards' late goal lifts Kings over slumping Blues

Goal with 2:43 left comes amid review; St. Louis
has dropped four of five, slips into eighth in West

ST. LOUIS -- A game for the taking was within their grasp. But as often been the case in the last handful of games, the Blues are finding the shorter end of the stick.

If something doesn't change really fast, they will be on the outside looking in, and there's not many games left to try and salvage what's left of a shortened season.

The Los Angeles Kings have gone into two tough buildings in a row and come up with key goals late in regulation to leave with two points.

On Monday, it was Dustin Brown scoring with less than two minutes to give L.A. a victory at Chicago. Three nights later, it was Mike Richards' turn to be the hero -- he stuffed a puck past Jaroslav Halak with 2:43 remaining to break a tie as the Kings beat the Blues 4-2 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (9) checks the Kings' Jarret Stoll during Los
Angeles' 4-2 win Thursday night.

The play went to review, as Halak had his skate up against the post. Jeff Carter did lift the goal from behind before the puck got stuffed in but it was determined to be a good goal, as Richards outworked the Blues' Andy McDonald on the play.

"I'm not even sure what happened," Richards said of his eighth of the season. "I got a little lucky, and jammed it in.

"You just look at the puck and poke, poke, poke."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said officials Stephen Walkom and Graham Skilliter got the information from Toronto. It was Walkom from behind the net that called it a good goal.

"He said it was a good goal," Hitchcock said of his explanation from Walkom. "Carter pushed the back of the net, pushed Jaro's foot off the post. Richards jammed it (inside) the post.

"I don't know. They'll have to explain that to you at the NHL level. Carter's motion on the back of the net forced Jaro's foot off the post ... it went in."

The Blues could have had an opportunity late, but Justin Williams, who added an empty-netter with 1:16 remaining to seal the win for the Kings (19-12-2), got away with a high stick on David Backes with 1:57 remaining.

It used to be that the Blues had the Kings' number, but the tide has turned heavily in favor of the Kings in recent meetings.

Brown and Trevor Lewis also scored for the Kings, who won for the fourth time in six games while beating the Blues for the eighth straight time -- including four wins in a second-round playoff sweep last spring. They've outscored the Blues 29-13 in that stretch.

"Every time we play them, it's a physical game," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "We just focus on the very next game against them. It's not like we're looking back. Maybe we just catch them at the right time."

The Kings grabbed the two crucial points in the standings, giving them 40 on the season.

"Every game now is a playoff game," Lewis said. "Points are so crucial. This had a playoff feel. We've been in all kinds of situations and we know what it takes. Now we've just got to build on this."

Vladimir Tarasenko scored both goals for the Blues (17-14-2) and Halak stopped 36 shots -- the 39 shots he faced were the most he's seen in any of his 15 appearances this season.

"It was not good because (the) team (lost)," Tarasenko said of his first two-goal game since opening night. "It doesn't matter how many goals we score and how many games you make, it's all about the win. We don't have selfish players on our team. We're just thinking about wins."

The loss was the Blues' fourth in five games and since they don't play again until Monday, could likely see them outside of the top eight in the Western Conference looking in. They came into the game in seventh place and pending San Jose's game late Thursday with Detroit, they could be in the last playoff spot but not for very long.

"We're trying, and right now, we've had some pucks that haven't gone our way," the Blues' Alexander Steen said. "Myself, I've got to start putting some pucks in the net. I've had God knows how many shots the last couple games. Tonight I have one that goes off the shaft of the goalie's stick and one that goes off the bar. They've got to start going in.

"It was a heavy game. Both teams checked well and played hard. For us right now, it's tough to get that break at the end, especially so late in the game. There's not much really to say. We've got to get back to work. There's no point in feeling sorry for ourselves. We have 15 games to go, and we just have go to win the next one now."

"I think we upped our level from past games," captain David Backes said. "We put a lot of effort into tonight. But again, tough to swallow. Tonight was one of the nights where we needed two points ... beg, borrow, steal, scratch and claw. It's starting to be a broken record of we've got to put more in to get more out.

"You win and you hold your spot in the standings; you lose and you start to slide. We've been too much of the latter."

The Blues had to chase most of this game but were able to get a pair of Tarasenko equalizers.

Brown gave the Kings a 1-0 lead when he was able to convert a rebound of a Kopitar chance 4:42 into the second period. Halak made stops on Rob Scuderi and Kopitar on the doorstep, but the puck got to Brown on the opposite side of the net.

The Blues tied it at 10:55, with Tarasenko scoring his first in 10 games when he connected for a power-play goal -- the Blues' first man advantage goal in five games. The Russian rookie followed up his own rebound after getting a feed in the slot from David Perron. Jonathan Quick, who stopped 20 shots, made the initial save but left a rebound in the slot.

The goal broke a 106:07 scoring drought for the Blues dating back to Saturday at Edmonton.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (74) battles for position in front of the Kings' Rob
Scuderi Thursday night.
But the Kings reestablished the lead when Lewis was able to outwork Wade Redden at the side of the Blues goal after a dump-in by Stoll and beat Halak with a near-side backhand just 1:53 after the Blues tied it.

Tarasenko equalized the game again for the Blues, as he followed up Alex Pietrangelo's one-timer and stuffed the puck past Quick from just off the goal line. Tarasenko, coming off the right half-wall, beat Scuderi to the position and finished it off 6:44 into the third.

But when push came to shove late with two points on the line, the Blues came up empty-handed. And time's running out. April looms with a heavy schedule and tough opponents.

"We had some good stuff," Hitchcock said. "We don't have enough yet, but we had a lot of people who poured a lot into it tonight. ... Not enough yet."
"No, we still lost it," Tarasenko said when asked if the Blues were good enough to win. "If we win tonight, that means we played good. But we lost."

* NOTES -- Before getting assists in Tarasenko's goal in the third, Pietrangelo (six games) and Kevin Shattenkirk (eight games) were without a point. ... Chris Stewart, after getting 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 18 games, now has one goal in the last five games. ... McDonald was minus-4 on the night. Along with linemates Stewart and Patrik Berglund, the trio was minus-10.

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