ST. LOUIS – So far, the second round has been a carbon copy of the first for the Los Angeles Kings. Two road games, two wins.
Two more, and they will have toppled the top two seeds in the Western Conference.
Anze Kopitar scored twice in a four-goal, first-period blitz as the eighth-seeded Kings embarrassed the Blues from the opening faceoff in a 5-2 whipping that gave them their fifth straight road win this post-season. Their latest travelling triumph came one week after they eliminated the Presidents’ Trophy winner in overtime at Vancouver.
“We’ve worked hard to put ourselves in this situation,” said forward Dustin Brown, who had three assists. “Now, it’s not only our opportunity but our responsibility to capitalize on this position.
“Going home 2-nothing is great, but if you don’t make it count it’s all for nothing.”
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter had a goal apiece and Brown and Dustin Penner each had a pair of assists in a period that was one goal shy of the franchise playoff record of five in 1993 against Vancouver.
“Scoring on the first shift was huge for us, we got a big jump-start,” Kopitar said. “That’s what we’ve got to take out of that. The second and third periods maybe we were not as strong, but the bottom line is we got the job done.”
The last time a team went 5-0 on the road to start the playoffs was in 2004, when the Lightning did it en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Now the Kings are home for the next two, with Game 3 Thursday night.
The Blues are 1-16 in franchise history when facing a 2-0 series deficit, the lone exception in the first round against Minnesota in 1972 when they rallied to win in seven games. It’s all uphill now for St. Louis, which was the NHL’s best home team with a franchise-record 30 wins and just six regulation losses.
“If we play like we did tonight with not enough guys going it’s going to be tough to win wherever we are,” captain David Backes said. “If we’re playing on the moon, we’re not going to win.”
Brown assisted on Kopitar’s short-handed goal and has a hand in all four of the Kings’ short-handed goals in the playoffs, two goals and two assists.
Andy McDonald scored 18 seconds into the second for St. Louis, but Justin Williams quashed thoughts of a comeback when he scored on the Kings’ first shot of the period. Then the Kings put it on cruise control, getting outshot 24-4 the rest of the way but with goalie Jonathan Quick surrendering just one goal as physical play increased on both sides.
“We knew they were going to make a big push in the second, which they did,” Quick said. “We had some people lean on them and you know it’s going to get a little chippy. This time of year, you expect that.”
Matt D’Agostini scored in the third for St. Louis, which was 0 for 9 on the power play with a pair of 5-on-3 advantages.
“We’re not getting the puck in the zone, we’re not setting up the way that we should,” defenceman Barret Jackman said. “I think we have the drive but just mistakes, miscues and the chemistry just isn’t working at the moment.”
Kopitar has three goals and three assists in the playoffs, and has scored in five straight playoff games after leading the Kings in scoring for the fifth straight season with 25 goals and 76 points. Brown added a third assist in the second period and has a team-leading nine points in the post-season.
The Kings have won seven straight on the road in the playoffs counting a pair against San Jose last spring and are in an enviable spot taking the series back to Los Angeles. They opened the first round with a pair of victories at Vancouver, taking that series in five games, but before that held just one 2-0 series lead back in 1968 when they lost in seven in the first round to Minnesota.
The Blues will have to rely on Brian Elliott, with coach Ken Hitchcock ruling out co-No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak for the rest of the series with a lower body injury sustained in Game 2 of the first round.
St. Louis had the NHL’s stingiest defence in the regular season, with goalies Elliott and Halak combining for 15 shutouts and each blanking the Kings once. They surrendered more goals in the first period of Game 2 than in any regular-season period.
Even an early fight between B.J. Crombeen and Dwight King, whose boarding penalty knocked out star defenceman Alex Pietrangelo in Game 1, failed to provide a spark.
Pietrangelo was a Game 2 scratch but with a lower body injury rather than a concussion-related issue as had been feared after he crashed face-first into the boards near the end of the second period. He could return for Game 3.
“He tried it today and he’s still sore,” Hitchcock said. “It’s a big hole, not a lot different than if they lost (Drew) Doughty. We need him back in the lineup.”
The charge began from the opening faceoff, with Richards scoring from the slot on the game’s first shot 31 seconds in after Penner dangled the puck near the net for several seconds before tossing it out.
The Kings had an 8-0 shots advantage before Quick finally faced a shot at 9:21, then handled the Blues’ power play for their second short-handed goal of the series when Brown stole the puck from Carlo Colaiacovo in the St. Louis zone and fed it in front to Kopitar, who had enough time to stretch Elliott across the crease to the breaking point.
That was just the second two-goal deficit of the playoffs for the Blues, the first coming on an empty-net goal in the Kings’ 3-1 Game 1 victory. The Kings were just getting warmed up, adding two goals in a span of three shots late in the period.
Carter’s shot on a rush deflected high off Roman Polak and right back to his stick, and he beat Elliott with a high shot at 18:37. And with 16.8 seconds left, Kopitar batted in a feed from Williams.
Counting the regular season and playoffs, Kopitar has 11 goals and 30 points in 25 career games against St. Louis.
NOTES: The Blues allowed three goals in a period eight times, the last time Feb. 22, in a 4-2 loss to Boston. … St. Louis allowed three short-handed goals in the regular season. … Brown is the first player with four short-handed points in the playoffs since Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg had five points in 2008.