ST. LOUIS – Alexander Steen’s overtime goal could be a lot more than a game-changer for the St. Louis Blues. However fluky the finish, they know they can beat the Los Angeles Kings.
Now, they’ll try to keep the upper hand against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“I think we had the adrenaline going and were excited being our home opener in the playoffs and a lot to prove,” forward Andy McDonald said Wednesday. “We just have to make sure that we match that again, and maybe even bring it up a notch. We know that they’re going to come out a lot harder.”
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock invoked the hockey gods after Steen picked goaltender Jonathan Quick’s pocket behind the net and scored short-handed to stun Los Angeles 2-1 in the series opener Tuesday night. He stopped just short of calling it a must win, given the Kings’ eight-game winning streak in the series entering Game 1.
The Kings also swept the Blues in the second round last year and had 3-0 series leads against every opponent. Coach Darryl Sutter is confident that Quick, whose play got the Kings to overtime, will shake off his crucial giveaway.
“There was no issue with Jonathan last night,” Sutter said. “You can say he made a mistake. He was trying to make a play, he was buying some time. The best two players on the ice were Steen and Quick, so I don’t think either one’s talking about bouncing back.”
Quick was not among the dozen or so players participating in an optional skate Wednesday, and did not meet with reporters.
Most of Game 1, the Blues looked like the team that won 12 of its last 15 to earn the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage against the Kings, who finished just one point behind.
“I don’t think we focused as much on them as we did ourselves,” Steen said. “I thought we came out with a lot of jump and played the way we wanted to play. But being said, that’s Game 1 and it’s behind us now.”
The Kings were saying that for a different reason. Forward Dustin Penner said the finish “makes that game hurt more, but that game’s over. The onus is on the older guys and the veteran guys to curtain any negativity we have toward the way that game ended.”
The Blues were thrown off their game by the Kings’ physical play last spring, and made it a point to initiate the contact in Game 1. They were outhit 41-38, but got the Kings’ attention with bruising Ryan Reaves leading the charge.
“I think last year they did it to us,” Reaves said. “They pushed us out. I think this year, it’s got to be the opposite. And when they push back, we’ve got to push harder.”
Sutter saw plenty of room for improvement with the Kings, particularly younger players who weren’t quite ready for the increased intensity. He wasn’t worried about physical play, describing the series as a matchup of “fast teams that work.”
On the road, with the Blues dictating matchups and the top line with David Backes opposing the Kings’ No. 1 line, Sutter there’s no use forcing things.
“Your matchups are what they are,” Sutter said. “And how do you counter that? Some of the boys that play on our fourth line have to play like big boys.”
Matt Greene practiced and is a potential replacement on defence for either Jake Muzzin or Keaton Ellerby, who both struggled in their playoff debuts. But Greene played just four games in the regular season due to injuries and missed the season finale.
“It’s not just healthy, he’s got to be up to speed,” Sutter said. “He needed about 10 games, to be quite honest. You don’t just put him in the lineup because he’s Matt Greene, Matt Greene has to be able to play, perform.”
Hitchcock said forward T.J. Oshie, who returned after missing 15 games following left ankle surgery, was OK.
“I thought he did fine until he got tired, then he started playing with his eyes, maybe,” Hitchcock said. “He’ll be better in Game 2. He’s one of those guys for us that we need to be better.”
Kings defenceman Robyn Regehr dodged a potentially scary injury, escaping with a bloody, broken nose after getting clipped by the butt of Backes’ skate. The blade just missed.
“I was very luck I wasn’t sliced open,” Regehr said. “It’s just a broken nose. It’s been broken many times before.”