By Allan Muir
No doubt that Jonathan Quick’s teammates appreciated him stepping up to take the blame after his miscues led to the winning goals by the St. Louis Blues in the first two games of their series. But all the Los Angeles Kings really needed from him was one of those gritty, never-say-die performances that were a staple of the team’s run to the 2012 Stanley Cup.
Quick came through with a gem on Saturday night, stopping 30 shots to earn his fifth career postseason shutout as the Kings snatched a 1-0 win a trimmed the Blues’ series lead to 2-1.
Here are some observations from Game 3:
• This was Quick at his aggressive and combative best, flipping, diving and poking to stymie St. Louis at every turn. He made several dandy stops, diverting an early David Backes breakaway and then bailing out Jake Muzzin after the rookie defenseman put a pass on the stick of Patrik Berglund right in the crease. His best save of the night might have been on teammate Rob Scuderi, who knocked the rebound of an Alex Steen shot out of the air and toward the open short side, forcing Quick to make a desperate glove stop during a tense third period when the Blues outshot the Kings 10-2.
• Slava Voynov was credited with the night’s only goal, but that one was all thanks to a beastly effort by Kyle Clifford. The big winger drove to the net looking to track down the rebound of an off-angle bid by Mike Richards and started jabbing away. Brian Elliott covered up his first poke at the puck, but Clifford kept digging while both teams collapsed into the crease, eventually scooping it out from under Elliott’s glove and knocking it back to Voynov, whose wrister slipped through the sea of humanity and past the prone netminder.
• Besides that blemish, Elliott was sensational again. The Kings landed just 21 shots, but that number included at least four high-quality chances. The best? Probably the post-penalty stop on Dwight King’s breakaway that kept the game within reach late in the third period. Unlike the scrambley Quick at the other end of the ice, Elliott is playing with great economy and calmness, and you can see that reflected in the players in front of him. His early season struggles are a distant memory now.
• Drew Doughty had on his big boy pants tonight. The bruising defender was involved all over the ice, setting up the offense with his slick transitional passes and jumping up in the play to overload the attack. But he was especially effective in his own end, where he had his hands full trying to keep Quick’s crease clear of intruders. In one memorable sequence, he took offense when David Perron bumped into his keeper, dislodging Quick’s mask. Doughty knocked the intruder over, “fell” on top of him, and then took a few freebies at his head for good measure. He ended up taking a double minor on the play (which served the dual purpose of keeping Dustin Penner off the ice for two minutes), but the message was clear: no free passes tonight, boys.
• The Blues dominated the puck possession game and generated many more chances than the Kings, especially in the final two periods when they were looking for the equalizer. But their inability to score five-on-five isn’t as big an issue right now as their moribund power play. The Blues have generated 13 opportunities so far, trailing only Anaheim and Detroit in the playoffs, but have just one goal to show for it. And after an 0-for-4 effort tonight that saw them land just five shots on net, they’re oh-fer their last 12 chances. The Kings were a top-10 penalty kill team during the regular season, so they’re not giving away any lollipops. Still, the Blues have to find a way to make hay with the extra man if they’re going to put away the champs.
• There are a number of Los Angeles forwards struggling to find their offensive groove, but Anze Kopitar? The guy has been a ghost in this series. His goalless streak was extended to 19 games as he failed to land a shot on net for the second time in the opening round of the playoffs. His most notable statistical marker tonight? He led all players in the ignominious category of number of his shots that were blocked. It’s not just bad luck, or a determined effort by the Blues to key in on him to reduce his effectiveness. Kopitar’s biggest issue is a slow release. He’s taking too long to get his shots off, and that’s giving defenders plenty of time to take away the lane.
• Speaking of missing forwards, has anyone seen Chris Stewart? St. Louis’ leading scorer during the regular season has seen his ice time cut over the last two games. Can’t blame Ken Hitchcock. He has to reward the guys who have it going. Stewart took four shots in this contest, but he settled for low-odds chances. He needs to plant himself in Quick’s crease and given him a good chance to memorize his backside.
• What were there today across the NHL, five instances of delay of game called when a defender inadvertently fired the puck into the crowd from his own zone? T.J. Oshie was the guilty party in this game, putting the Blues down two men for 32 seconds in the third, giving the Kings a chance to blow the game open. He avoided the skate of shame taken early in the day by Ryan McDonagh obviously, but the call never should have been made in the first place as the puck struck the side-mounted television camera before going out of play. I’d say there’s a better than even chance this rule gets put up for reconsideration before next season.