Kings Ain't Got No Blues, One Win Away from Sweep
Kings' fans aren't used to this. The Kings have been to the Conference Finals only once. And as the Kings were putting the finishing touches on their 4-2 win against the St. Louis Blues to give them a 3-0 series lead, the inevitable chants started up: "Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!"
"I think we were in the same position once before," Kings' head coach Darryl Sutter noted. The Kings were up 3-0 against the Vancouver Canucks in the first round but failed to sweep the series in Game 4.
"We have a stranglehold on the series," Dustin Brown said. "Now it's having that killer instinct."
The festivities started hours before the game with Chick Hearn Court closed down and a street festival sprouting up. All of the statues in front of the STAPLES Center donned Kings' sweaters. There was a miniature street hockey rink. There was a stage feature a DJ, a band and lots of cheerleading. There was the ever important beer garden.
While there was excitement at the drop of the puck, there was a bit of nervous energy coursing through the standing-room only crowd of 18,362. It was clear the Kings were outplaying the Blues, however the puck wasn't going into the net. Until 13:33 when Justin Williams shot the puck into the crease which caught Blues' goalie Brian Elliott in the five-hole.
The crowd exhaled a bit heading into the first intermission. And something odd struck me. There were no Blues' fans. When Chris Stewart scored the tying goal 1:13 into the second period, there were no cheers as normally heard when almost any other team comes into town. In fact there really was no sound at all, not even boos, as the crowd was stunned.
The tension was soon dispeled as a great bank pass from Matt Greene from the Kings' zone found Dwight King on a breakaway. And 40 seconds later the Kings retook the lead.
"They are momentum goals on their side in three games," Blues' head coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That's a fine line between winning and losing."
The most shocking thing about this game was seeing the Blues come apart at the seams. Nearly all of the penalties they committed were ones that No. 2 seeds shouldn't be committing in the playoffs: Andy McDonald's tripping of Dustin Brown in the second period; Jamie Langenbrunner's interference call; Elliott's delay-of-game.
"The bigger problem is stupid penalties, reactionary penalties," Hitchcock said. "That takes it out of the 5-on-5 for us. I think that kills the energy because we use top players to kill penalties. So when it's 3-2 and we're mounting a comeback, we've wasted a lot of energy. We can't beat this team when we're sitting in the penalty box."
That's not quite right. The Kings went scoreless in their previous 30 power-play opportunities going back to Game 2 of the Vancouver series until Mike Richards pulled the same shot he made against Roberto Luongo in Game 1 in the middle of the second period to give the Kings the 3-1 lead.
Like Hack-a-Shaq if the Kings don't make their opponents pay for committing stupid penalties, then what's to stop them from committing them? Sutter didn't seem to be too concerned about it.
"The percentages I couldn’t care less about. It’s about scoring the big goal, and that’s a big goal."
After Stewart scored a second goal for the Blues, Drew Doughty all but cemented the game in the third period with a shot from the slot that trickled through Elliott.
After having a lull in the last 40 minutes of Game 2, the Kings really seemed to be on their game.
"It was a good 60 minutes for our group," Jarret Stoll said. Sutter even went one better.
"This was as good of a third period we've played in three months."
And on the other side was the Blues.
"They outplayed us," Hitchcock said. "They were better."
"They've got a team that's playing all together as a team and sticking to the game plan," Blues' captain David Backes noted. "We're in for a while, we're out for a while, we're in for a while and it just doesn't match up.
"We need to look in the mirror again and decide."
What saved Vancouver in Game 4 of the last series was having Daniel Sedin return to the team. The problem for the Blues is that they don't have anyone to come in on a white horse. Alex Pietrangelo made his comeback in this game turning the puck over three times while missing five shots and having two of his shots blocked, none reaching Jonathan Quick who made 18 saves.
As for the crowd who finally started to celebrate in final five minutes of the game when the silver streamers exploded as the final horn sounded a wave of catharsis coursed through the arena. It had been 11 years since the team had been one game away from the Conference Finals and 19 years since actually making it there.
They all know one thing: Game 4 will be on Sunday at Noon.