Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Kings tie series by rallying past Blues 4-3

St. Louis can't hold early two-goal lead; series becomes a best-of-3

LOS ANGELES -- The Blues and Los Angeles Kings set the precedent for the lowest scoring series of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The teams combined for seven goals in three games and space has been limited.

Monday night in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the teams opened the scoring gates, and after the Blues got the first two-goal lead of the series, the Kings came roaring back to make this a best-of-3 series.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Vladimir Sobotka (17), here battling the Kings' Mike Richards,
assisted on two goals in a 4-3 loss in Game 4 Monday night.
Los Angeles overcame a 2-0 deficit, then a 3-2 third-period deficit on goals by Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams 1 minute, 16 seconds apart as the Kings evened the best-of-7 series with the Blues with a 4-3 victory Monday night before 18,334 at Staples Center.

Despite a two-goal effort from T.J. Oshie, the Blues -- for the first time in the series -- were pushed out of the competition from a Kings team determined to make this a short series.

They did. After the Blues led 4:32 into the first period, it was all downhill from there, even after the Blues led after 40 minutes.

"I think it was just a continuation of the second period to be honest with you," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They took the game to another level. Tonight we didn't have an answer."

"You want a two-goal lead any playoff game you can get it," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who assisted on Oshie's power play goal that made it 2-0. "We did a great job of coming out. I think we just took our foot off the gas a little bit. I think we maybe just thought it was going to come a little easier for the rest of the game. With an experienced team like that, they're not going to quit. They're able to get two goals, it's a long game and we just have to keep that pressure on at that point."

The teams combined for seven goals in 186 minutes, 34 seconds of play before Monday and got four in the first period tonight.

The Blues were looking for more offense and they got it early, scoring the first two goals with Backes putting them ahead and Oshie adding to it.

Backes was able to convert into an empty net when Jay Bouwmeester's shot came off the back boards and around the right side. Backes caught Jonathan Quick out of net and fired into an open side just 1 minute, 12 seconds into the game on the Blues' first shot. Vladimir Sobotka made the play initially when he slipped past a Kings player and got the puck to Bouwmeester.

Oshie helped the Blues snap their 0-for-12 slide on the power play when he redirected Kevin Shattenkirk's shot from the top of the left circle 4:32 into the game for a 2-0 lead and the first two-goal lead by either team in the series.

Game over right?


The Blues started making the kind of mistakes that would drive a coach crazy. Both Kings goals by Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner were the biproduct of odd-man rushes.

After Oshie failed to get a puck in deep in a 4-on-4 situation, Mike Richards and Carter went in on a 2-on-1 after Barret Jackman fell down near center ice. Richards saucered a pass to Carter, who slid a backhand five-hole through Brian Elliott at 9:33 to make it 2-1.

Bad bounce, but you’ve got to bear down, you’ve got to get it in," Oshie said.

Then the Blues had the puck in the offensive zone, and Jordan Leopold took a gamble and pinched in along the boards, missed the puck and the Kings sprung out on a 3-on-1, with Penner converting a Jarret Stoll pass over Elliott at 14:30 to tie it 2-2.

"You look at it system-wise, we weren't real sharp tonight," Leopold said. "I thought I'd get the puck and it didn't work out that way. You're going to have nights like that. We've got to bounce back here.

"There's definitely decisions on the ice that you'd like to get back, but that's the name of the game. We tried to recover from mistakes and make the best of it, but it is a game of mistakes and they were fortunate enough to be able to capitalize on them."

"We made two mistakes, two really poor mistakes to give them odd-man rushes to get them back in the game," Hitchcock said. "But even when it's 3-2, they were playing better than we were. We grabbed it for a little while for seven minutes or so in the third, did an OK job ... didn't manage the puck very well really in the second and the third period at all and paid for it dearly."

Backes agreed.

"Yeah, a lot of the turnovers in the neutral zone fed their offense," he said. "To have a couple of guys pinch in, give them a 2-on-0 and a 3-on-1 when we're up 2-0 there in the first, that’s not how you protect a lead. King of hung Ells out to dry."
Oshie got his second of the game when he followed to the net and collected Sobotka's one timer after getting a pass from Patrik Berglund. Quick stopped Sobotka's blast, but Oshie found the rebound and flipped a shot from a sharp angle past Quick 5:46 into the second as the Blues regained the lead.

But that's when the Blues seemed to curl up and try to run and hide from the heaviest of competition. The Kings were punishing and relentless in the third period.

They got Kopitar's tying goal, his first since March 25 (19 games), when initially, Roman Polak threw a puck from the Blues' zone off the center ice boards. The Kings quickly gained possession, got it back into the Blues' zone and Dustin Brown was able to elude both Oshie and Bouwmeester and fed Kopitar, who got past Berglund and popped a one-timer from the slot past Elliott at 7:14 to tie it 3-3.

Williams redirected Mike Richards' shot from the half wall past Elliott at 8:30 to give the Kings a 4-3 lead, their first of the night and one they wouldn't relinquish.

The Blues were 19-2-0 in games which they led after two periods during the regular season.

"That was tough," Shattenkirk said. "We knew they were going to come. We have to be much better there. We have to be able to respond to it. If we want to grow as a playoff team and be successful in the future here, those are the situations that we have to start bearing down, especially as a team that's been through it before, we have to know that that's coming."

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (9) and the Blues will have to regroup in Game 5 after
falling 4-3 in Los Angeles against the Kings Monday night.
The Blues went without a shot until 8:49 remaining when Chris Porter was finally able to wake up Quick at the other end. Backes had the best chance to tie it with three minutes to play when Andy McDonald sent a blind backhand into the crease, but the puck got caught a bit in Backes' skate and he couldn't lift a puck over Quick.

"Yeah, hit me in the skates and then was rolling a little bit, I just tried to chip it over him," Backes said. "It's tough to get a ton of wood on that, but that's the way the puck rolls sometimes.

"We shouldn't have to wait until two minutes left in the game to try a desperation play when we got into the third (leading) 3-2. We get hemmed in our zone and not have any relief the guys back there. Just a little disappointing with the all around resort, but I think we’ve got a little more to give around here."

Despite the two goals, Oshie, Berglund and David Perron were all minus-3 in the game and aside from Perron not being on the ice for Carter's 4-on-4 goal, they were on the ice for all the Kings' goals. Polak was on the ice for three of them.
"I think we started trying to make some cute plays at the blueline," Oshie said. "I'll speak for my line when I say we were good at times and we were terrible at other times. I could have single-handedly prevented three of their goals. I'm probably to blame for those three. Being on the ice for all four of the other team's goals is pretty embarrassing."

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