A Tiny Margin Better

Going into the night, there were questions about what the Blues would try to do to shift things in LA, with the obvious hope that they could win game four and go home with a chance to close their series.

They said, they adjusted their power play, that they were wanting their top line to play a closer game (to each other) and that they all wanted to bear down and finish their chances.

The Kings, by contrast, were happy to keep the game close, the defensive systems that each team playing holding the scores down. As their coach described both sides, “We are two teams that play similar styles and do it almost perfectly.”

The game started out looking like the Blues would do all they wanted and the Kings were going to wilt. It was 2-0 within the first five minutes. The Blues buried at least one chance, on their first goal, that they might have missed a couple of nights ago.

It was looking like the series would be blown open, maybe a big game by Brian Elliott would create a 5-0 win. But in the end, it was another one-goal game and the LA Kings’ coach, Darryl Sutter, described the series in similar terms afterwards. “We’ve played 13 periods and it’s, what is it, 7-7 or 8-8, whatever it is.”

As he went on, he described the strengh his team has: “It’s not about morale with our team—this team has resiliance,” he said.

Justin Williams said the same thing. “We’re an experienced team. We’ve been through a lot, and we knew we needed a lot,” speaking of the second period. “We were facing a daunting task going to St. Louis down 3-1. But we looked down within ourselves, got a couple of big goals, and it resulted in a big win.”

What’s worrying for Blues fans is that their coach, Ken Hitchcock, said essentially the same thing again. “They dialed it up. There’s another level out there, and they reached another level. We’ve got home ice right now, we’ve earned it, and it’s a best of three. We’ll see who gets it. They went up in a gear, and we’ve got to find an answer. They’ve got a gear that they know how to get to. That’s what championship teams do. It’s our job to answer.”

The early 2-0 lead meant nothing. The Kings came back, taking over play as the first period went on and scoring on the Blues twice at even strength through persistence and taking advantage of the other side’s mistakes. The second goal, particularly, featured the kind of opportunistic play that is all one has to look for in a game like this. Trevor Lewis chipped a puck up the boards on the left side. Jarret Stoll then rushed it up the ice, and passed it to Alec Martinez. He passed it back, and then Stoll dished it to Penner, who fired it home.

The Blues coach called his time out early in the second period (why save it until there are only 17 seconds left?) after the Blues swarmed Quick but then the Kings came back with a good chance in the form of Carter, Richards, and Dwight King moving the puck in the St. Louis zone.

Immediately upon the timeout’s conclusion, the Blues went right down the ice and scored. Bang. And Hitchcock was thinking, “Why do they only give you one of those, anyhow?” TJ Oshie put the puck behind Quick for his second goal of the game.

Nobody scored further in period two, but the Kings were the stronger team from then on out. Voynov put a slapshot on net that Kyle Clifford tried to jam home. There was a pass left to right for Richards, who tried a one-timer but half missed, resulting in a low shot and a leg save. Richards put a puck at the net with a wrist shot, seemingly for Carter to get the rebound on. Kopitar put a puck to Doughty on his left for a one-timer. And so it went, period two seeing six shots for the Blues and 13 for the Kings.

After the game, Hitchcock described his team’s poor puck management, particularly in the second and third period. “We paid for it dearly,” he concluded. He also could have lamented the three minor penalties his team took in the frame, to LA’s one. But the period ended 3-2.

Period three saw the Kings come out slowly but pick up speed very soon. Penner beat a guy off the wall and sent a pass to Scuderi, who had it go behind him. Penner, by the way, said after, “We made it tough on ourselves, but we have to break through those tough times.” Between two and three, he said they told themselves, “Just win one period. We’ve tied one, lost one. Just win one period. There’s a lot of resiliancy in this room . . . and obviously, we draw on the lessons from last year.”

The two Kings goals to tie and win it both came off of mistakes by the Blues. The first started with a giveaway by Roman Polak. The second, or last in the eventual 4-3 loss, was Williams stealing the puck from TJ Oshie. Both were examples of the poor puck management Hitchcock cited. For Kings’ fans, part of the excitement of the tying goal was seeing Anze Kopitar score it. It had been 20 since his last goal. That was March 27th.

The Blues played hard the last five minutes, getting a couple of chances, but there was no sense that the Kings were collapsing, or letting down at all. Perhaps they’d learned the lesson from earlier in the night—don’t take a lead for granted, as St. Louis had done.

For his part, when asked whether things felt like last year, Sutter said, “No, it felt like game three, felt like game two, felt like game one.” He said he doesn’t think of this as a series, and he doesn’t think of the next game as game five. It’s just a game, to be played in St. Louis. One thing both teams know now is that that won’t do it, and one way or the other, the Kings will host the Blues again Friday night. (Time as of now is not set.)

Justin Williams summed up the future, which is to say, Wednesday in Missouri: “Now’s not the time to let off the accelerator. Now’s the time to keep pushing.”

Kings Notes

If you’re headed to St. Louis for game five, then Gates’s bbq is your place. This is not a commercial. But if you go, bring me back a bottle of their sauce. Yum.

Follow me on twitter @growinguphockey. Read my books, the newest of which is My Country Is Hockey. Thank you.

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