Los Angeles knots up series, best-of-three now shifts to St. Louis Kings regain footing at home

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Kings began to climb out of their 2-0 series deficit to the St. Louis Blues in a tightly-played game which resulted in a 1-0 victory Saturday night.  They completed their climb Monday night when they defeated the visitors 4-3 at the Staples Center.

Game four featured as many goals in one game as what were scored in the first three games of the series demonstrating both goaltenders were mortal.

The game began slow with three whistles in the first twenty five seconds, but soon had some action courtesy of the visiting Blues.x8l30fessv8trvnrkur3x0yyj

Just over a minute into the game, St. Louis began the attack in their own zone.  Vladimir Sobotka sped through the neutral zone and across the Los Angeles line before dropping a pass to a trailing Jay Bouwmeester.  The St. Louis defenseman fired a shot high and to the left side of the Los Angeles net which Quick overplayed. 

The force of the shot enabled a carom off the end boards which went right to a waiting David Backes at the right side of the night.  The St. Louis captain fired the puck into the wide open net to give the Blues the first goal of the game.

More problems ensued for Los Angeles when just over a minute after St. Louis scored, Kings’ Center Colin Fraser was sent off for high-sticking Ryan Reaves and the Blues went to work.  Applying relentless pressure on the Los Angeles net, the Blues extended their lead.

Just before the penalty expired, the Blues’ forward dig the puck from along the boards and sent a pass back to the left point where Blues’ defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was waiting.  Shattenkirk sent a drive that was going wide, but T.J. Oshie, standing in front of Quick, extended his stick to deflect it over the glove of the Kings’ netminder giving St. Louis a 2-0 lead.  The Blues had now scored two goals in just over three minutes.

Despite continual pressure in the Los Angeles zone, the Blues could not extend their lead, but their aggressive nature led to penalties as the period approached the halfway mark.  With coincidental minors on Blues’ forward Alex Steen for cross-checking and Kings’ forward Drew Doughty off for interference, the additional space on the ice proved beneficial for Los Angeles.

Just thirty-three seconds into four-on-four play, Los Angeles turned up ice from their zone catching Blues defenseman Barrett Jackman turned around and with the seat of his pants on the ice leading to a two-on-one break.  With T.J. Oshie the only Blues’ player defending, Mike Richards sped up the left side and sent a slick pass across the ice to a streaking Jeff Carter who broke in alone and tucked the puck into the low left side of the net putting the Kings on the board.  It was the first glaring breakdown of the night for St. Louis.

After a few threats from the Blues, the Kings struck again just five minutes after they narrowed the Blues’ lead.  With Blues’ defenseman Jordan Leopold making an ill-advised pinch on the left point, the Kings mounted a 3-on-1 break.  Kings forward Jarrett Stoll skated up the right side entering the St. Louis zone where he dished it off to Kings’ defenseman Alex Martinez.  After receiving a return pass, Stoll delivered the puck to a waiting Dustin Penner who made no mistake putting it past Elliott low stick side tying the game.  It was just the second of two glaring mistakes by the Blues and it cost them dearly with two goals against and the Kings back in the game.  The period ended with St. Louis leading in shots 11-6, hits 20-15 and giveaways 4-1.

The Blues opened the second period attempting to pick up the pace just 25 seconds into play.  Jay Bouwmeester fired a heavy shot toward the Kings’ net where Backes tipped it on goal.  Quick somehow made the save and the Kings turned up ice for their turn at an attack.

Los Angeles controlled play for the next five minutes as the Blues were getting hemmed in their own zone having difficulty getting the puck out.  Their ability to make timely line changes without allowing Los Angeles to exploit their tired defense was a challenge.  Added to the pressure from the Kings was that T.J. Oshie took a slap shot off his recently repaired left ankle and was in noticeable pain.

Sensing the need to gain control and give his team needed a lifeline, Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock called a timeout at the 5:36 mark.  The move proved to be a lifesaver and gave the Blues momentum.

Just ten seconds after the time out, the Blues’ Patrick Berglund carried the puck up the left side and into the Los Angeles zone.  He slid a pass across to Vladimir Sobotka who sent a tricky drive on goal that Quick saved, but could not control the rebound.  T. J. Oshie then sent the puck over the glove of the fallen goaltender to give the Blues a 3-2 lead.

The Kings pressed with their best chance of the period at the seven-minute mark.  While setting up inside the Blues zone, Kings’ defenseman Jake Muzzin passed to Jeff Carter at the left face-off circle.  He sent a quick pass cross ice to Mike Richards who had a wide open goal until Elliott slide from right to left closing off the open side.  It was Elliott’s best save of the night.

With Los Angeles still holding the edge in shots, they continued to attack the Blues net, now taking liberties after the whistle on Elliott with whacks and two-handed chops attempting to jar the puck loose.  One such instance earned Blues’ defenseman Barrett Jackman a cross-checking penalty for defending his goaltender. 

The ensuing power play was short-lived when while attempting to keep the puck in along the right point, Kings’ sniper Anze Kopitar tripped up Patrik Berglund nullifying the man-advantage.  The period ended with a flurry of shots at both ends of the ice with the Blues still leading the Kings 3-2.

Los Angeles dominated in shots for the period 13-6 and the game 19-17, while St. Louis took the edge in shots over two periods 32-27.  Perhaps the most telling statistic came from blocked shots where St. Louis led 14-1, a contributing factor in keeping a lead.

The Kings opened the third period coming right at St. Louis in hopes of pressing for an early equalizing goal.  It finally came just over seven minutes into the final period.

With the Blues back on their heels and the Kings skating pretty much at will in the St. Louis zone, Kings’ defenseman Jake Muzzin dished the puck off to Kings’ forward Dustin Brown.  The Los Angeles captain wound around Blues players until sliding a pass from the corner to the slot where Anze Kopitar buried a shot past Elliott to tie the game.  It was his first goal of the playoffs.

The Kings were not done.  Just over a minute after tying the game, the Kings mounted another attack inside the St. Louis zone.  With a screen in front of the Blues goal, Mike Richards sent a puck in the air from the near boards toward the Blues goal where it was tipped by Justin Williams on a shot Elliott had no chance to save.  The Kings had their first lead of the game while St. Louis was still looking for their first shot on goal.

The Blues finally gained that first shot on goal when Chris Porter, a fourth line center, fired the puck toward Quick just over 11 minutes into the period.  Los Angeles had seven shots at this point and continued to take control looking to finish the Blues in this game with a punishing and relentless forecheck.  The Blues looks beaten with missed passes and little skating, a sign Los Angeles had disrupted their attack.

With three minutes left in the game, Backes missed a golden chance while out in front and uncovered.  While corralling a difficult to control puck, Backes got a stick on the puck swatting toward the goal, but the effort would provide futile as the weak attempt was saved by Quick.  The Kings dodged a dangerous bullet.  It would be the last chance for the Blues.

Los Angeles dominated in shots during the final period 10-5, 26-11 in the final two periods.  While St. Louis had more hits, 41-35 and more blocked shots, 18-2, the Kings held the edge in the most important statistic.   

Until game four, the Kings had not lost a playoff game where they trailed by two goals since April 18, 2001 against the Detroit Red Wings.

The series shifts to St. Louis where game five is set for Wednesday night at Scottrade Center.  The puck drops at 8:30 ET.

Follow Dennis M. Morrell on Twitter at DMMORRELL

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