ST. LOUIS – The defending Stanley Cup champions certainly looked the part while evening their series against the St. Louis Blues, whose best move is turning the page.
The Los Angeles Kings dominated the second half of Game 4, powering past a pair of deficits behind forechecking that put the Blues on their heels, and have all the momentum in a series that’s tied at 2-2.
The Kings’ plan is simple for Game 5 Wednesday night in St. Louis: Keep the pedal down and play physical but smart.
“There hasn’t been much difference in the games whether it’s home or road,” coach Darryl Sutter said. “It’s all one-goal games and they’re all third-period games and you just by shift by shift.”
The Blues have a day to re-boot the system and still have home-ice advantage, by virtue of finishing a single point ahead of the Kings for the fourth seed in the Western Conference. The home team has won all four games, each by a goal.
“Who’s got control of anything right now?” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They dialed it up, so there’s another level out there and it’s our job now to answer the level. We’ve got home ice, we’ve earned it, and it’s best of three now and we’ll see where it goes.”
St. Louis has won eight in a row at home, allowing one goal each time, and are facing a team that’s been vulnerable away from the Staples Center. The Kings have a nine-game winning streak at home and have dropped eight in a row on the road, including a pair of shootouts in April.
The Blues appeared primed for a knockout punch in Game 4 with two early goals, setting the tone for an uncharacteristic wide-open 4-3 final that matched the scoring total the entire series for both sides. The Kings shrugged off that deficit, scored twice in 1:16 in the third to seize their first lead, and never looked back.
“I think we’ve been getting better every night,” forward Jeff Carter said. “We’ve been in that position before and these guys don’t get too down on themselves. We just chipped away.”
The Kings became the first No. 8 seed to win the Cup last year, knocking off the first, second and third seeds. They trailed in the third period just once, in the opening round. They had to dig deep in Game 4, erasing a two-goal deficit for the first time since 2001. The last two periods, the Kings outshot St. Louis 23-10.
“There’s a lot of resilience in this room,” forward Dustin Penner said. “Obviously, we draw on experiences from last year.”
The Blues couldn’t sustain their opening jump and perhaps stunned after falling behind never mounted much of a counter-attack.
“If we want to grow as a playoff team and be successful in the future, we have to start bearing down,” defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “We just took our foot off the gas a little bit. I think maybe we just thought it was going to come a little easier for the rest of the game.”
The Kings capitalized on sloppy plays that Blues captain David Backes said left goalie Brian Elliott “hung out to dry.”
Carter scored the Kings’ first goal on a 2-on-1 break after T.J. Oshie’s shallow dump-in deflected off a Kings skate and defenceman Barret Jackman lost an edge and tumbled at centre ice. Defenceman Jordan Leopold got burned on a pinch that created a 3-on-1 break on Penner’s goal that tied at 2. Patrik Berglund strayed from his assignment, allowing Anze Kopitar to wriggle free and tie it at 3.
The Blues were caught flat-footed not long afterward when Justin Williams, perhaps the Kings’ top offensive threat throughout the series, scored the go-ahead goal on a deflection. Williams had six shots in the game.
“Scoring three on them is fine and dandy, but giving up four goals is not our style,” Backes said. “The turnovers in the neutral zone fed their offence.”
Got Kopitar out of a slump, too, busting a 19-game goal drought.
“You feel about 100 pounds lighter,” Kopitar said. “So I felt pretty good after that.”
Oshie scored his first two career playoff goals but ended up minus-3 along with linemates Berglund and David Perron. Forward Vladimir Sobotka was among the rare standouts at plus-2 with two assists.
Two days earlier, Hitchcock was much happier with the overall play. Jonathan Quick earned a 1-0 shutout in Game 3 but the Blues missed several golden scoring chances.
“We just have to get back to doing the things that made us successful,” defenceman Jay Bouwmeester said. “This time of the year it’s real close. You don’t have to change a lot but sometimes it makes a big difference.”