St. Louis Blues get off to dream start against L.A. Kings
|Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick makes a save during the first game of the NHL Western Conference playoff series against the St. Louis Blues in St. Louis, April 30, 2013. (REUTERS/Sarah Conard)
ST. LOUIS - Now, that had to feel good for the St. Louis Blues.
But Los Angeles King goaltender Jonathan Quick probably couldn't feel any worse.
Quick was the best player on the ice until 13:26 of overtime, when he lost the puck to Blues forward Alexander Steen behind the net and Steen scored the winning goal in a 2-1 win. The Blues took a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series Tuesday.
It had been seven games in succession that the Blues lost to the Los Angeles Kings, including a four-game sweep in last year's playoffs. But the Blues picked a good time to take a big step for their club and made it just a little bit harder for the Kings to defend their Stanley Cup title.
"I wasn't surprised he was going to play it that way behind the net," Steen said. "It was the only out he had. It was just one of those plays."
It looked like it curtains for the Blues when Kevin Shattenkirk took a four-minute high sticking penalty in overtime.
"It was a reactionary play," Shattenkirk said. "I went to lift his stick ... you have to control your stick. It was a tough break."
Until Quick's massive brain cramp, it looked like Quick would steal the game for the Kings. Instead, he gift wrapped it for the Blues.
That was a relief for Shattenkirk who watched it all from the penalty box.
"My heart sank a little bit. I was a little nervous in the box," he said. "But you could tell the guys were ready to kill it off and help me out. Getting a goal on it is one way to end it and get through it.
"I owe Steener many thanks and maybe a couple of dinners. I think I might have thrown the guy in the penalty box out of the way to get on the ice. It was a very big relief."
But the win didn't come without great angst beside the penalty.
It shouldn't have been that difficult.
The Blues dominated the defending champs, outshooting them 36-19 and making the first-period goal by Steen stand up until the final minute.
That's when Justin Williams somehow managed to blow a wrist shot into the top of the net with 32 seconds left to tie the game.
If you like tight, throat-in-mouth hockey, you got it as the defending champs began trying to fend off the would-be champs.
"I don't like to ever say it was a must-win," said Blues' coach Ken Hitchcock. "But it would have been tough to get up tomorrow and skate if we had lost that."
For the Blues it was a dream start despite the nightmarish moment.
"I thought we played well," Steen said. "We did a lot of good things, had a lot of chances but this is only Game 1."
The first period was a blueprint for what the Blues need to do to win this series.
It began from the drop of the puck. The crowd at the Scottrade Centre went crazy when Ryan Reaves ran over two Kings with big checks.
It's what needed to be done.
The Blues deserved a bigger lead than 1-0 but they had to settle for a power-play goal midway through the first. Shattenkirk wired a shot from the point that Quick managed to kick out but the puck went to Steen and he made no mistake with most of the net to shoot at.
There's a lesson to be learned for the Blues, though. When you have a team on the ropes, finish them.
Teams that win championships don't easily give up that crown.
This was the script the Kings lived by last year. They rode solid goaltending by Quick until they would wear out their opponents.
The Blues don't have to be told twice how the Kings won their title.
Beware of champions that are left to hang around.