By Allan Muir
It wasn't long into Game 4 before the Los Angeles Kings felt the boots of the St. Louis Blues pressing down hard on their throats. After allowing two goals in the first five minutes, the defending champs faced the likelihood of a 3-1 series deficit and a return to the road, where they have lost eight straight.
But it turned out that adversity suited them. With nearly a full game to play, they found another gear and took the game to a level that the Blues couldn't match. And for the first time in the series, L.A.’s offense finally got on track, powering two comebacks in a thrilling 4-3 win that sends the series back to St. Louis knotted at two games apiece.
Here are some quick observations from the series-tying win for the Kings:
• The Kings might grind out a win here or there thanks to a big performance from Jonathan Quick or some timely scoring from their role players, but they only get out of this series if their best players are their top forwards. That finally happened tonight. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards combined on the first goal. Anze Kopitar scored his first in 20 games after some yeoman work by Dustin Brown in the corner. And Justin Williams clinched it with a nifty deflection off another Richards shot out front. Now that that lot has tasted a little red meat, they're likely to be more dangerous as the series progresses.
• Pretty easy to guess as to what St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock will be talking about tomorrow after turnovers in the neutral zone and odd-man rushes killed the Blues’ lead. The Carter goal came on a two-on-one after Robyn Regehr picked off a pass, and Dustin Penner's came on a three-on-one after a poorly-timed Jordan Leopold pinch. That's the kind of risk you take when you dress Leopold, but Hitch is all about risk minimization. It'll be interesting to see if he tightens the leash on the veteran in Game 5.
• The Blues got two goals from T.J. Oshie, but their best performer clearly was Vladimir Sobotka. The undersized center set up two goals on the night, including Oshie's second, and was a team-high plus-2. He also registered 10 hits and went 11-6 (65 percent) in the face-off circle, both game highs. Again, that's the sort of step-up effort that every team needs in the playoffs, but where were the big boys? Despite the offense, Oshie was on the ice for all four goals against. So was Game 2 star Patrik Berglund. Chris Stewart, Alex Steen and Andy McDonald were pointless...again. Now that Los Angeles' big guns have fired, it's time for the best of the Blues to respond.
• So, what was the point of dressing Vladimir Tarasenko again? The dazzling winger barely got the spoon in his mouth for his first taste of playoff hockey before Hitchcock yanked it away and sat him down. He was given just one shift in the second period, and only two in the third after the Kings had taken the lead. No one should be surprised that Hitch doesn't trust a rookie in a tight game, but if you're not going to use him to create offense when it's needed the most, why is he in the lineup at all?
• No time better than the end of a long slump to have a laugh, eh Anze?