By Allan Muir
This was the one that got away.
Not that the St. Louis Blues really deserved to win Game 5 Wednesday night. If anything, the Los Angeles Kings played better in a contest in which they never trailed while the Blues struggled--again--to cash in on enough of their premium scoring chances to get the job done. But by coming back from a goal down not once but twice -- including a last-minute game-saver by Alex Pietrangelo that sent it to overtime -- it just felt like maybe this was the one that was destined to fall the way of a team that always seems to come up short this time of year.
And then Slava Voynov, who already had one game-winner in the series, ended those hopes with a wicked wrister in OT, giving the Kings a 3-2 win and a 3-2 series lead.
The Blues once led the Kings 2-0 in this series, but failed to put the champs on their backs by losing a pair of very winnable games in Los Angeles. Now, after letting this one get away from them, they face the daunting task of winning at the Staples Center, where they've lost seven straight, just to force a Game 7.
Is it possible? Sure. But the Kings are 14-3 in their last 17 games against the Blues. And now that they're on a roll, there won't be many who like St. Louis' chances Friday night.
This was their chance. And they let it get away.
Here are a couple of observations from tonight's game:
• This was another thoroughly entertaining entry in what's proving to be the best series of the postseason. The Kings and Blues went toe-to-toe in a fast-paced, hard-hitting drama that was every bit as thrilling as the higher-scoring Boston-Toronto game earlier in the evening. Hard to imagine there'll be a more physically demanding series the rest of the way.
• Full marks to Voynov for his smart read and his drive to the net on the winner, but that's just a bad goal for Brian Elliott to give up with the game on the line. He bounced up as he slid right-to-left on Anze Kopitar's pass, which raised his left pad off the ice enough for Voynov's wrister to slip under him. A backchecking Jaden Schwartz appeared to slash Voynov's stick just as he was releasing, and that might have messed with Elliott's perception of the shot, but his positioning just wasn't good enough to extend the game.
It was emblematic of how this series has turned over the past three games. Elliott's been good -- much, much better than he was when these teams met last spring -- but Jonathan Quick has stood a bit taller at the other end of the ice. And he's made the stops when they matter most. Elliott hasn't.
• Kopitar, who went a staggering 20 games between goals, was clearly feeling the weight of the slump early in the series. His physical game slipped and he was dogged by questions about his health as the Kings struggled to score. But his Game 4 tally seemed to flip a switch. With that oversized monkey finally off his back, the Kings' alternate captain was at his best tonight, dominating in all three zones while making high-end plays to set up L.A.'s second and third goals.
On the Kings' second marker, it was his patience with the puck that forced Elliott completely to his right, leaving Jeff Carter with a gaping cage when he finally sent the puck over to the streaking winger. And it was Kopitar’s pinpoint pass that allowed Voynov to get away a shot for the game winner before a hard-charging Schwartz caught up to him.
When Kopitar is on his game, the Kings possess another dimension offensively that the Blues can't match.
• Carter also counted the Kings' first goal of the night. Both were daggers, scored in the first minute of the second and third periods. The timing is significant in that the goals put the Blues on their heels early. More important though is that Los Angeles' top players are performing like top players. Carter now has three goals in the last two games. Mike Richards had his second consecutive two-assist night. Justin Williams is on the score sheet two games in a row. The guys the Kings need to light the lamp are getting the job done.