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Blues

Blues blow two leads, series now even 2-2

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Anze Kopitar

Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar (11), of Yugoslavia, celebrates his game-winning goal against St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) in the third period of Game 4 of the NHL Western Conference Stanley Cup hockey playoff series in Los Angeles, Saturday, May 4, 2013. The Kings won, 4-3. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

LOS ANGELES • Blues forward T.J. Oshie scored two goals Monday and called it “probably the worst complete hockey game I’ve played all year.”

Oshie was the only Blue admitting as much, but he had company in Game 4 of the Blues’ Western Conference playoff series against LA.

Spotted a two-goal lead early in the first period, the Blues treated it like a case of hiccups, as if they couldn’t wait for it to go away. The lead came back and they got rid of it again.

The Blues’ 4-3 loss to LA has evened the series at two games apiece, but more disturbing, it’s re-opened the concern that the defending Stanley Cup champions know how to win at this level and Ken Hitchcock’s club does not.

“They just got a gear,” Hitchcock in a 1½-minute post-game press conference. “They got a gear that they know how to get to. That’s what championship teams do. It's our job to answer it.”

After losing their seventh straight game at Staples Center, the Blues will have a chance to respond Wednesday, when the series shifts back to Scottrade Center for Game 5 at 8 p.m.

The first two playoff goals of Oshie’s playoff career couldn’t help the Blues take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. The blame could be placed in many areas including the line of Oshie, Patrik Berglund and David Perron — three who were a combined minus-9 on the night. The finger could also be pointed at a six-member defensive core that showed up physically but not mentally.

Giving up odd-man rushes with a 2-0 lead shouldn’t happen in the regular season, much less the postseason. But that’s exactly what happened after David Backes and Oshie opened the scoring.

Less than two minutes after the puck dropped, the LA net opened up like the Pacific Ocean, and Backes netted a give-me goal, his first goal of the playoffs. Jay Bouwmeester’s shot drew LA goalie Jonathan Quick out of the net, and when the puck hit the end boards and popped out the other side, Backes did what the Blues had failed to do earlier in the series, burying a wide-open chance.

The Blues then went on the power play and snapped an 0-for-12 drought when Oshie deflected in a point shot by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

The team went 60 minutes without scoring in a 1-0 loss in Game 3, but 4 minutes, 32 seconds into Game 4, they had two.

“Even though we were scoring goals, I don’t think we played the way we wanted to,” Oshie said. “Rush for rush isn’t our style of play.”

Few watching believed that LA would go unheard from the rest of the way, but perhaps fewer would have predicted that the Kings would make noise so quickly.

Midway through the opening period, Oshie chipped a puck into the offensive zone, hitting Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr with the puck. Back the other way, Richards set up Jeff Carter for his first goal of the series, cutting the deficit to 2-1.

Then with 5:30 left in the first period, Dustin Penner tied the score 2-2 on his first of the playoffs. Defenseman Jordan Leopold was caught pinching, allowing the Kings on a 3-on-1 rush and Penner beat Blues goalie Brian Elliott.

“I thought I'd get the puck and it didn't work out that way,” Leopold said. “There's definitely decisions on the ice that you'd like to get back, but that's the name of the game.”

The Blues had 12 giveaways Monday, half of those committed by the defensive pair of Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo.

“A lot of the turnovers in the neutral zone fed their offense,” Backes said. “To have a couple of guys pinch in, give them a 2-on-0 and a 3-on-1 when we’re up 2-0 there in the first (period), that’s not how you protect a lead. We kind of hung (Elliott) out to dry.”

The Blues regained the lead 3-2, however, with 14:14 left in the second period on Oshie’s second goal of the game.

After winning a face-off in the defensive zone, the Blues transitioned the puck up ice quickly. Berglund dished to a charging Vladimir Sobotka, who ripped a shot on goal. The rebound spit out to Quick’s left and Oshie buried the wide-angle shot.

But much like on March 5 when the Blues held a 4-1 lead in the second period against LA, and fell 6-4, it was not enough. The Kings struck twice with a pair of goals 1 minute, 46 seconds apart in the third period.

Anze Kopitar, who came into the game on an 18-game scoring drought, tied the score 3-3 with 12:46 left in the third period. Dustin Brown deked Oshie in the corner, then slid a puck past Bouwmeester, and with Berglund and Roman Polak neglecting the front of the crease, Kopitar knotted it up.

“It was just a continuation of the second period to be honest with you,” said Hitchcock, referencing a middle period in which the Blues were outshot 13-6. “Even when it's 3-2, they were playing better than we were. We grabbed it for a little while in the third, did an OK job ... didn't manage the puck very well really in the second and the third period at all and paid for it dearly.”

Justin Williams’ put the Kings ahead with 11:30 left in regulation. He deflected a shot by Mike Richards and, after a review to check for a high-stick, the goal stood.

Elliott and Quick entered the night ranked Nos. 1-2 in the NHL playoffs in goals-against and save-percentage, but after they gave up only seven goals in the first three games combined, the teams combined for that same number in Game 4.

Still, “they’ve all been one-goal games,” Backes said. “To score three on them was fine and dandy but to give up four, that’s not our style. We’ve got some soul-searching to do, look in the mirror and bring a better effort and more composed effort when we get home on Wednesday.”

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Jeremy Rutherford is the lead Blues beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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