LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The St. Louis Blues threw everything they had at the Kings in the final two periods of Game 4, desperate and determined to avoid a series sweep. Although Los Angeles bent to an alarming degree, Jonathan Quick never broke.
Even on the Kings’ roughest day of a mostly smooth post-season, the surprising eighth seeds charged on to an unlikely berth in the Western Conference finals.
Dustin Brown scored two goals, Quick made 23 saves, and the Kings swept the Blues out of the post-season with a 3-1 victory Sunday, advancing to the conference finals for just the second time in club history.
Quick, the indomitable All-Star goalie emerging as a breakout star, raised his stick and glove in celebration when the final seconds ticked off the Kings’ eighth win in nine post-season games. The sellout crowd at Staples Center surprised him with its intensity while celebrating the long-struggling team’s best post-season performance in 19 years.
“You heard the rink today, how loud it was,” said Quick, who has a .949 save percentage in the post-season. “It means a lot more to (the fans) than it does to us. It’s a great deal, a big push, by us to win four in a row against a team like that. They were great all series long … but you heard the fans, how loud they were the last two minutes there. It gives you goose bumps.”
Rookie Jordan Nolan scored an early goal for the Kings, the first No. 8 seed in NHL history to eliminate their conference’s top two seeds in the same post-season. The Kings only clinched a playoff berth right before their 81st game, but they’ve been unstoppable ever since.
“It’s a special group, and we knew that all along this season,” said Anze Kopitar, who had assists on both of Brown’s goals. “Maybe we didn’t break out when we would have liked to, but I think we’ve peaked at the right time, and that’s the most important thing.”
After eliminating top-seeded Vancouver and second-seeded St. Louis, the Kings are the first team to earn a conference final berth. They’ll face the winner of Phoenix’s series with Nashville in the Western Conference finals. The Coyotes lead 3-1, with Game 5 in Phoenix on Monday night.
Los Angeles won despite its weakest effort of the post-season in Game 4, clinging to a 2-1 first-period lead while St. Louis dominated most of the final two periods. Perhaps the Kings didn’t adapt well to an unusually early start time, but Quick made a handful of big saves before Brown scored his sixth goal of a stellar post-season into an empty net with 25.8 seconds left.
The Kings made their only previous trip to the conference finals in 1993, when Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille propelled Los Angeles past Toronto and into their only Stanley Cup finals, a loss to Montreal. The Kings won just one playoff series in the ensuing 17 seasons before routing the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks in five first-round games last month.
“I can only imagine how happy Kings fans are right now,” said Brown, who has never played for another organization. “They’ve been through a rough stretch, and to win on home ice, that’s huge for everyone in this room. It’s nice to see the fans get jacked up as much as they could. They haven’t an opportunity to celebrate like that at home.”
Kevin Shattenkirk scored his first career playoff goal for the Blues, who were outscored 15-6 in the series to end their most successful season in more than a decade. Brian Elliott stopped 17 shots in an improved performance, but St. Louis is finished after a 109-point regular season.
“L.A. plays the way you have to play to win the Cup now,” said St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock, who won the title with Dallas in 1999. “They play the game the right way. I’m sure they’ve had stumbles along the way to figure it out, but it looks to me like … they’ve figured it out.”
Los Angeles’ only previous playoff series sweep happened in 1976 in a best-of-three elimination of the Atlanta Flames.
The Blues also were swept out of the post-season in 2009, their only previous playoff appearance since 2004.
“The second period, we really got into our game, the way we’ve played all year to be successful,” St. Louis captain David Backes said. “I don’t think they had a ton of response for it, but they did a good job of bending and not breaking. They get credit, but we are going to have a long summer of thinking about how we could have been better in the series.”
The sellout crowd for Game 4 had barely settled in its seats when Blues defenceman Roman Polak turned over the puck near his own net, and Nolan scored his first career playoff goal just 4:36 in.
St. Louis managed just one shot in the first 11 minutes, but evened the score with its second—a rocket from Shattenkirk, who scored a rare clean goal against Quick.
Brown put the Kings back ahead late in the period with his first goal of the second round, using Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo as a screen for a sneaky shot to beat Elliott.
While St. Louis dominated the second period with solid forechecking, the Kings fell into one of their biggest funks of the post-season, managing just one shot in the first 18 minutes.
St. Louis again dominated early in the third, and Matt D’Agostini’s deflected shot barely caught Quick’s crossbar early on. During 4-on-4 play a few minutes later, David Perron nearly scored on a rebound before Kopitar slid into the crease and knocked the puck underneath Quick.
NOTES: Los Angeles’ power play is in a 1-for-37 slump, but the Kings also held St. Louis scoreless on 17 power plays in the series. … St. Louis’ Chris Stewart held his finger to his lips to shush the crowd after beating up Nolan in a first-period fight. … Kobe Bryant, Landon Donovan, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier all appeared on scoreboard videos pumping up the crowd and urging on the Kings. Bryant, who attended a Kings game late in the season with his daughters, wore a white Kings jersey.