Little breathing room exists in the NHL playoffs, and in Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs at Scottrade Center on Tuesday night there was even less.
The Blues dominated the LA Kings for the duration, but somehow the crowd of 17,612 at Scottrade Center could feel that the team’s near misses and spoiled wide-open chances would catch up to the club.
But in overtime, facing a four-minute LA power play when Kevin Shattenkirk was whistled for high-sticking, Alexander Steen netted a short-handed goal for an abrupt end to a 2-1 OT victory over the Kings.
“It was just such an emotional swing,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “You’re figuring out who’s going to kill a four-minute power play and the next thing the game is over.
“The hockey gods took care of us. We played a great hockey game. Waking up tomorrow would have been a challenge if we didn’t win the hockey game.”
In a turn of events, with Shattenkirk in the penalty box for drawing blood on LA's Dustin Penner, it was the Blues who drew first blood on the Kings in the first-round series.
Steen’s second goal of the game with 6 minutes 34 seconds left in OT gave the Blues a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-seven set and ended the Kings’ eight-game strangehold on the club.
Game 2 is 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Scottrade Center.
The game-winning goal ruined a sensational night for LA goalie Jonathan Quick, who made 40 saves. With the Kings 30 seconds into a four-minute man-advantage, Quick retreated behind his net and was attempting to rim the puck to his right along the boards when Steen accosted him.
The Blues’ veteran, who re-routed to get to Quick, forced a turnover and quickly backhanded the puck into an empty net.
“I just got fortunate behind the net ... it hit my stick,” said Steen, who had just came onto the ice on a line change. “I figured once the puck went down, I had fresh legs. I figured I’d try him.”
“It’s exactly what it looked like,” Quick said. “I tried to make a pass. He blocked it and scored. I don’t have an option to the left; you try to make him make a decision. And he got the stick on it.”
The goal ended an overtime in which LA had the upper hand. After being outshot 36-19 through regulation, the Kings ended with a 10-6 shot advantage in OT.
“I thought the overtime, we probably played a little bit not to lose and they gained some confidence from it,” Hitchcock said. “We’re still learning how to win these big games.”
Are they ever.
On a first-period power-play goal by Steen, the Blues were one-half minute away from their first victory over LA since Feb. 3, 2012, when Justin Williams tied the score 1-1 with 31 seconds left in regulation.
Goaltender Brian Elliott, who had orchestrated a quality start to continue his torrid month, was within perhaps one save of his first-career postseason shutout. Williams’ shot went off the stick of defenseman Barret Jackman and over the shoulder of Elliott on the short side.
“They were just throwing bodies at the net and it went off our d-man’s stick and went top corner,” Elliott said. “Anything can happen. You’ve got to be prepared for that.”
The crowd, which had been rising to its feet in anticipation of a post-game party, sat in stunned silence. The clubs, as they were expected to be doing any moment, headed to the locker rooms. Unfortunately for the Blues, they were coming back out. During the intermission, the offense could lament many missed opportunities.
David Backes, Jaden Schwartz and Andy McDonald highlighted a list of Blues who either couldn’t pull the trigger into an open net, or if they did, heard the loud sound of rejection.
“We were getting a lot of chances, they just weren’t going in,” Backes said. “We can either sulk and whine about hitting the post or keep pouring it in and figuring the next one is going to go in. We’ve got that mentality now that if one doesn’t go in, rather than getting discouraged, we get the next one.”
The Blues’ mood was positive from the onset Tuesday. They could not have worn a more determined look in the first period.
“They came out exactly how you expected them to play a warp-speed game and that’s what they did,” LA coach Darryl Sutter said. “Handful of guys not ready.”
The Blues outshot the Kings 14-6 and out-hit them 13-8, with Ryan Reaves putting four on the board, including two crowd-pleasers just seconds apart. The Kings were under siege and put the Blues on two first-period power plays.
They had a 4-on-3 advantage that turned into a 5-on-4, after which the unit capitalized.
A clearing attempt by the Kings was corralled by Shattenkirk and fired back on net. Quick made the stop, but Steen popped in for the rebound, scoring his second career playoff goal for a 1-0 lead with 10:55 left in the period.
At one point the shots were 13-3 in favor of the Blues, so Elliott’s workload was minimal in the early going Tuesday, but when they needed the netminder, they really needed him.
When Jackman took an interference penalty with 1:27 left in the first period, LA went on its first power play of the game, and a goal would have put a question mark at the end of a period that should have received an exclamation point.
The Kings nearly tied up the score on the man-advantage, even threatening as the horn was preparing to sound. But with the help of the post behind him on a shot by Jeff Carter, Elliott kept the net clean in the closing seconds of the period.