The Blues finally pushed back.
They traded big hits with the Kings. Power forward Chris Stewart and hit man Ryan Reaves answered LA’s physical challenge. They finally got a goal from a defenseman (Kevin Shattenkirk) stepping into the play.
The Blues tilted the ice toward LA goaltender Jonathan Quick during the second period. They established their forechecking game and sustained that attack in the third.
Clearly the Blues were a better team Sunday. But the Kings were THE better team, again, and they closed out the four-game sweep with a 3-1 victory.
The Blues learned some hard lessons during their swift second-round exit. After moving the puck with great confidence through most of the regular season and the entire Sharks series, they became skittish in the face of LA’s relentless pressure.
Turnovers plagued them to the bitter end of this series. So did dumb penalties, often in retaliation for the vigorous contact the Kings initiated.
They generated few quality chances at even strength. They were awful on the power play, struggling to even gain the offensive zone with puck control.
With goaltender Jaroslav Halak sidelined by an ankle injury, his cohort Brian Elliott buckled under the full weight of his increased responsibility.
Their best players weren’t their best players. Alex Pietrangelo was clearly playing hurt, but what excuse did the other top Blues have?
Here is the breakdown:
STRATEGY AND TACTICS
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock mixed things up, restoring Reaves to the fourth line in place of B.J. Crombeen. Reaves played big during Game 1 of the San Jose series, then sat out the next seven playoff games.
He also benched mistake-prone defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo in favor of young Ian Cole, who paired with Shattenkirk. Pietrangelo started out with Barret Jackman and Kris Russell played with Roman Polak.
Shattenkirk had a series to forget until his first-period goal. The Blues caught the Kings in a line change and Shattenkirk made them pay, taking a pass from Jackman and beating Quick with a drive from the right side.
Shattenkirk had some good defensive moments early on, too, including his heady play to break up a 2-on-1 Kings rush. In the third period he dropped the hammer on Anze Kopitar with a big hit along the back wall.
Stewart and Reaves threw the bodies around in the first period. Reaves banged four bodies on one shift and Stewart got the best of Jordan Nolan in a spirited fight. Stewart moved up to play with David Backes and Andy McDonald in the third period and Reaves rang a shot off the crossbar.
Elliott made several big saves early on, including one on Dustin Brown from right on top of the crease after Cole turned the puck over. Alas, Elliott didn’t see Brown’s shot from the left wing through Pietrangelo's legs. You had to feel for him on that screened shot.
McDonald set up an epic scoring third-period opportunity by hitting Russell stepping in from the blue line. The Blues would have scored, but Kopitar cleaned up the rebound before Pietrangelo could bat it into the empty net.
Stewart took a bad tripping penalty to give the Kings an early power play. He got caught reaching for the puck when he needed to arrive on time to play the body.
Scott Nichol took a bad high-sticking penalty in the second period while reacting to a slash. Then he took a worse double-minor penalty in the third period. Poor composure just another Blues problems in this series.
Backes negated a power play by needlessly getting his hands up on a hit along the way. With the Blues trailing 1-1, the team captain can’t take an elbow penalty there.
Matt D’Agostini negated a potential third-period power play with a boarding penalty. A delayed call against Brown was pending at the time.
Polak committed one of the uglier turnovers of his career, accidentally spitting the puck up to the front of the net. He inadvertently put it on a tee for Nolan. That put the Blues into an early 1-0 hole right after a successful penalty kill.
That was the beginning of the end.
FROM THE TWEETDECK
Kelly Chase: “Unfortunately the Blues turnovers are glaring and costly and they have been all series.”
Tim McKernan: “It's one thing to get beat. It's another thing to do what they've done over the last couple of games and helping the cause of the Kings.”
Mark Whicker: “Someone named Landon Donovan is on video board exhorting Kings fans. Is he some sort of entertainer?”
Dan O’Neill: “Stewie pounds Nolan, shooshes the crowd. That was better than Mayweather v. Cotto.”
Mark Whicker: “Stewart beats up Nolan as Blues show heretofore unseen interest.”
Lou Korac: “So glaring in this series, Blues getting dominated in the 1st period. LA outscoring Blues 8-2. First period shots: 45-26 in favor of LA.”
Jeremy Rutherford: “Blues have scored 6 goals in series. On five of them, Kings have responded 7:42, 1:08, :40, 3:37 and 6:53 later. #momentum”
Mark Whicker: “Blues should be winning this game, but the fact that they have the IQ of a turnip has been a problem.”
Lou Korac: “The Blues finally began to figure out what it takes to win in this series. Sadly, it took them 3 games + 1 period to figure it out.”
Darren Pang: “That's a heck of a 3rd period in LA. #Blues played desperate, just not good enough to beat Quick. What a series he had. #HolyJumpin.”
Pierre LeBrun: “You beat the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the West? That makes you the No. 1 Cup contenders in the entire NHL in my books.”
Sports Pickle: “Trading for Wayne Gretzky might finally be paying off for the LA Kings.”
Lou Korac: “I was beginning to wonder what would come first, a Blues win in this series vs. LA or an Albert Pujols home run. Pujols wins.”
Matt Sebek: “Filing off the Blues Bandwagon in droves. #STL is hoping will reuse the machinery when the Rams finish preseason 4-0 again.”