By Allan Muir
At a glance, the play of Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick over the first two games of this series against the St. Louis Blues has lived up to the legacy of his Conn Smythe run.
After a 40-save performance Tuesday night’s opener, he was at it again in Game 2. He made sliding saves, kick saves, glove saves and flopped around, Hasek-style, doing everything he could to keep the Kings in it.
But for the second game in a row, it was Quick who let his mates down at the worst possible moment. And now the Kings find themselves in a 2-0 hole after a crushing 2-1 loss in Game 2.
The dagger this time wasn’t as dramatic as the behind-the-net-giveaway that Alex Steen converted into the OT winner in Game 1, but it was every bit as lethal. With the contest tied at one and the final seconds counting down in the third, Quick lost his angle on a simple zone entry and was beaten by a 40-foot wrister off the stick of Barret Jackman.
Playoff time makes for odd heroes, but the stay-at-home defender shouldn’t beat Quick on a five-foot gimme putt this time of year, let alone an un-screened shot from the top of the circle.
That softie overshadowed an improved, but still flawed, effort from the defending champs, who now have gone six-plus periods without scoring a five-on-five goal. And so now a team that never had to prove it knew how to counter-punch during last year’s magical run needs to figure out if it has the stuff before Saturday’s Game 3 in Los Angeles.
Here are four other takeaways from Game 2:
• As easy as it is to justify slapping the goat horns on Quick, it’s worth remembering that he’s received exactly two goals of support through the first two games. Brian Elliott deserves a good chunk of the credit for shutting down the Kings’ offense. He’s been magnificent in his 2013 redemption tour, stopping 56-of-58 shots and making big saves at big moments to quell any hope the Kings might have of gaining traction. But at the same time, Los Angeles’ top players aren’t meeting the challenge of the moment. All the things that paved the way to the 2012 Cup — the net presence, the relentless cycle, the physical dominance along the boards — those things aren’t happening. At least, not with any consistency. And so Los Angeles’ forwards aren’t making things as hard on Elliott as they need to.
• Darryl Sutter said he needed more out of his top players in Game 2 and he got it … in the first period, anyway. After that, the only time Anze Kopitar caught your eye was when he was being whipped in the face-off circle (a nice, solid 8-for-22 performance). He showed some spark early on, but seemed disengaged again by the third. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter offered a more consistent effort than in the opener, but it was in the execution where they came up short. Not enough push, enough passion. The only star to answer the call was Dustin Brown, who spent the night in Beast Mode. Brown was locked in mortal combat in the crease when he tipped a Richards wrister past Brian Elliott on a five-on-three for L.A.’s only goal. After that, he was in on every premium chance they created, including a breakaway in the second and a reckless drive to the net in the third that left him hobbling after he slammed into the goalpost. He was easily the best player on the ice, but the rest of the Kings failed to match his intensity.
• Alexander Steen, the star of Game 1, was a non-factor tonight, but Patrik Berglund did a nice job of stepping up in his place, especially in the first period when the Blues were back on their heels. The big forward had four hits in the opening stanza, knotted the game in the third with a deflection after an aggressive drive to the net and generally played like someone with a burr under his saddle. Finding a different hero every night worked out pretty well for the Kings last year. Maybe the Blues are on to something.
• It’s one thing to play a heavy game. It’s another to play a smart, heavy game. Whatever Ken Hitchcock said to his fourth liners after their undisciplined play in the first led to L.A.’s power play goal got their game back in order for the second and third periods. Coincidence that the Blues started to push back at the same time? Probably not. The trio of Ryan Reaves, Adam Cracknell and Chris Porter started initiating contact instead of retaliating in the second, and it wasn’t long before the rest of the team followed their lead. St. Louis started laying the body harder and more frequently, but didn’t take another penalty the rest of the way. That’s the formula the Blues need to execute consistently if they want to finish off the champs.