Kings sweep aside Blues
ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI AGENCY
|Los Angeles Kings Dustin Penner (L), Drew Doughty, and Colin Fraser (R) celebrate with Jordan Nolan (2nd R) after Nolan scored against the St Louis Blues during the first period of Game 4 of their NHL Western Conference semi-final playoff hockey game in Los Angeles, California May 6, 2012. (REUTERS)
LOS ANGELES - The Kings of Los Angeles are now one series away from ruling the entire Western Conference.
After taking just nine games to crush the conference's top two seeds, the hottest team in the NHL is now three rounds deep in the playoffs for the first time since Wayne Gretzky wore their colors in 1993.
"This is probably the most excited I've been in a long time," said L.A.'s Anze Kopitar, who believes, after knocking out the top two contenders in the West, that L.A. can beat anybody. "It's a special group, and we knew that all along this season. We gained a lot of momentum at the right time, at the end of the season. And brought it into the playoffs."
Despite opening both series on the road, the eighth-seeded Kings dismissed Vancouver in five games and swept St. Louis in four after Sunday's 3-1 decision. They haven't lost a road game yet.
Next stop is either Phoenix or Nashville in the conference final.
"It doesn't matter," said defenceman Drew Doughty. "We're fully confident in here that we can beat either team. They're unbelievable teams and it's going to be a battle, but we have a great team in here."
It was L.A.'s least impressive performance of the series -- they jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the first period and spent the final 40 minutes hanging on for dear life -- but hang on they did, until captain Dustin Brown let everyone exhale with an empty netter in the final seconds. A sold out Staples Center, on its feet and in full roar for the final two minutes, registered on the Richter scale when Brown clinched it.
"It was crazy, I had chills running down my body," said Doughty. "All the fans were on their feet, they were cheering. I got the puck and I had goosebumps, I tried to dump the puck in and kind of fanned on it.
"It was great, we're happy we could do this for the fans. Now we want to win them a couple more series. The Kings organization has never won the Cup, so that's what we're here for."
"This was a big step for this team," said Brown, who's been a driving force in the post-season with six goals (two of them shorthanded) and five assists (two of them shorthanded) in the nine games so far. "It was just really fun to be out there for that. It's the first time a lot of guys in here have experienced that. We'll enjoy it, but we don't want to be known as the team that only made it past the second round."
Better than being the team that only made it past the first. For the stunned St. Louis Blues, it's better luck next year.
"It's tough to swallow," said Blues winger Alex Steen. "Two weeks, a month, it's still going to be frustrating. We lost four straight in the second round and got knocked out."
The Blues ran through their usual first-period checklist, taking an early bad penalty and giving up an early goal. They tied it on Kevin Shattenkirk's goal but Brown's first of the night put L.A. up 2-1 at the intermission.
With 40 minutes left on their Doomsday Clock, the Blues finally started fighting for their lives. They outshot the Kings 13-3 in the second and pressured hard in the third, but couldn't beat Jonathan Quick.
"We found a way to bend but not break and that's something this team has learned how to do," said Brown. "We found a way."
Are the Kings Cup material?
"They're the best team we've played against, that's all I can judge it on," said Blues coach Ken Hitcocock. "They play the way you have to play to win the Cup now. Over the course of the disappointment that's gone on here for three or four years they've figured it out."