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Hockey Guy: Steen haunts the Kings

Hockey Guy: Steen haunts the Kings

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St. Louis Blues v Los Angeles Kings

Blues goaltender Brian Elliott blocks a shot during a playoff game between the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, April 30, 2013, at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. (Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com)

All night long, Blues forward Alex Steen burst up and down the ice, rounding up pucks, attacking the net, firing shot after shot at Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.

He gave his team a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal during the first period. He tried to score the critical second goal again and again and again as the Blues dominated play.

During the third period, Steen tried to quickly shovel a loose puck into the empty net . . . and he hit the outside of the post instead.

Those missed opportunities wore heavily on the Blues when the Kings forced overtime with Justin Williams' last-minute goal.

Los Angeles took charge in overtime. The Kings built a 10-5 shots advantage against the skittish Blues. "In overtime I thought we were playing not to lose," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We started playing a little bit nervous."

The Kings got a four-minute power play on Kevin Shattenkirk's high-sticking infraction. They seemed ready to put the Blues away and gain the early series advantage.

They seemed ready to start their Stanley Cup defense with a comeback victory.

And then, against all odds, Steen won the game with a hustle play behind the Kings net. He stripped Quick of the puck, buried a wraparound goal and gave the Blues a stunning 2-1 victory.

Imagine if the Blues lost this game after controlling most of the action. Imagine how goaltender Brian Elliott could have struggled to bounce back from allowing that suspect goal at the end of regulation play.

Imagine all the Blues thinking "not again" in unison. But Steen did not let that happen. Steen willed his team to victory with an astounding individual play.

Hitchcock said that was just more of the same from Steen. "He has really stepped up his play in the last month for this hockey club," he said.

Here is how Game 1 unfolded:

Elliott's first big save didn't come until 5 minutes into the game. The fourth Blues line did some big hitting in their zone, but super-sized Kings winger Dustin Penner got a point blank shot standing atop the crease. Although Penner didn't get much on the shot, he directed the puck toward an open side of the net. Elliott needed to be nimble and quick.

It didn't take long for Blues David Perron to get into Quick's face, literally. Their skirmish created some open four-on-four ice, allowing Roman Polak (of all people) to walk in from the left point. Polak's shot nearly bled through Quick for the game's first goal. 

The Blues turned sustained pressure into a Kings delay-of-game penalty. Then they converted the power play into an early lead, with Shattenkirk stepping into a big shot down the middle and Steen converting the big rebound.

The Blues didn't convert their second power play, but they sustained heavy pressure that carried beyond their man advantage. Steen nearly scored walking from around the net. Perron nearly converted a goal-mouth scramble. Steen nearly scored breaking in on right wing; once again, Quick checked behind him for the puck.

Between all the golden Blues opportunities, Jeff Carter walked in out of the left corner to challenge Elliott one-on-one. Elliott hung with him and made the stop.

With the Blues holding a 14-4 shots advantage, defenseman Barret Jackman got caught a bit flat-footed and earned a late interference penalty by bumping Anze Kopitar off his puck pursuit. The Kings came within inches of tying the game, but the puck caromed off the post during a goal-mouth scramble.

Hitchcock burned his timeout 6 1/2 minutes into the second period when his scrambling team iced the puck to relieve pressure. That move proved timely; the Blues moved the play back into the LA zone earned multiple scoring chances. Rookie Jaden Schwartz was the catalyst for change.

He broke to the net and tried to jam the puck through Quick with a shade less than seven minutes left in the period. That triggered a nice Blues sequence that saw T.J. Oshie challenge Quick at even strength. The rebound created a scramble that led to a power play and additional Blues pressure.

The Blues closed the second period on the power play, narrowly missing on a couple of Patrik Berglund slot deflections and still another Steen break-in.

An unfortunate collision behind the Kings net during the first minute of the third period left Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr bleeding profusely. He suffered the facial wound when David Backes accidentally clipped him with his skate.

Backes had a clean breakaway with less than 10 minutes to play, but couldn't beat Quick for the all-important two-goal lead. His dreadful scoring luck from the regular season carried over.

The Blues kept firing away, building an 11-1 shots advantage at one point of the third period. They were steaming toward victory during the final minute when disaster struck. The Kings pulled Quick for an extra attacker and forced overtime with Williams' goal with 31.6 seconds left. Williams fired his shot from a sharp angle from the right wing and Elliott failed to seal the post.

But it didn't matter because Steen saved the game in overtime.

"For us, hopefully we gain a lot of confidence from this," Hitchcock said.

"We made a big push today and got rewarded. We got something to draw on."

AROUND THE RINKS: Maybe, just maybe, the Phoenix Coyotes will finally leave the Valley of the Sun and move a real hockey market . . . The Dallas Stars became adrift under GM Joe Nieuwendyk. Now Jim Nill has arrived from the Detroit Red Wings to change the culture . . . Nobody wanted to play the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, but nothing would truly shock the experts this year . . . The Ottawa Senators have moved much closer to full strength -- and that gives them a fighting chance to advance in the playoffs . . . Phil Kessel can run from media scrutiny, but he cannot hide . . . The Colorado Avalanche has been plagued by hapless management, but even that team can't screw up the first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft . . . If the Blues are going to take a run at the Cup, Alex Pietrangelo will have to be a difference maker. That is why he makes the list of potential Conn Smythe candidates . . . Don't be surprised if the Anaheim Ducks use both goaltenders during these playoffs. Coach Bruce Boudreau used tag teams in Washington. But he opened with veteran Jonas Hiller to give him first crack at carrying the load . . . Craig MacTavish loves the Edmonton Oilers. But can he convince free agents to love the once-prominent franchise as much? . . . One benefit of being terrible: An also-ran can draw up its shopping list early. This is how we know the Calgary Flames want to add a gritty center.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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