"The more things change, the more they stay the same." Obviously, the history and attitude of the Los Angeles Kings shifted dramatically after last season, thanks to some big silver trophy. And yet, history dictates that being a Kings fan means dealing with the occasional loss that feels both stunning and inevitable at the same time. It happened in Game 1, and it happened in Game 2, as Barret Jackman scored with 50 seconds left to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-0 series lead in the first round.
Speaking of changes: today's game, other than the final result, was all about some big differences from Tuesday's Game 1. What was different, and why was the result so familiar?
(For one, tonight's TV coverage catastrophe was created by the NHL instead of Fox Sports West. But we'll ignore that for now.)
Darryl Sutter changed the lines again, returning to a look that is familiar to fans who have watched the team all season. Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and Justin Williams reunited on the top line, and they were the best LA line tonight. They contributed to a good start for the Kings and were the only line able to generate shots at even strength in the opening period, and all three saw plenty of power play time as well when the Blues couldn't stay out of the box. When LA had an opportunity on the 5-on-3 midway through the first period, Sutter went aggressive and put out Brown, Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Drew Doughty. The strategy immediately paid dividends. Carter won the faceoff (a major area of struggle for the Kings in Game 1) and Kopitar tipped the puck to Richards, whose shot from the high slot was tipped in by Brown. The Blues would not take a penalty for the rest of the game, while the Kings got whistled three more times to bring the overall count even at four penalties apiece. Brown found himself in controversy after tripping Jaden Schwartz with his leg late in the first; while the hit looked ugly and he lunged with most of his body (including elbow and knee), he didn't connect anywhere except the lower leg, and thus, two minutes.
If you thought that 5-on-3 was a sign of goals to come, well, disappointment would ensue. The Kings improved their offensive performance in terms of shots and possession (not too hard after Game 1's futility) but were stopped by Brian Elliott time and time again. Some of the lines didn't give Elliott much to do, though; the third line (Penner-Stoll-Lewis) struggled in particular, and the second line of Richards-Carter-King wasn't awful but couldn't really make anything happen.
Fortunately, Jonathan Quick was doing his part to maintain the Los Angeles lead during the first 40 minutes. His first-period stop on Jaden Schwartz, in particular, was highlight-reel material. The Blues tried scrumming with Quick quite a bit to throw him off, and Quick did his share of fighting back; David Backes even pushed Rob Scuderi onto Quick at one point, which was rather silly. But when Alexander Steen (the Game 1 hero) was robbed by Quick at the exact midpoint of Game 2, it seemed like Quick had responded to his Game 1 blunder with the F-U performance many were expecting. Elliott still wasn't cooperating, thwarting a tremendous Williams effort and the other 28 LA shots on the night. Which brings us to the third period.
Needing to hold the lead in the third period to steal home-ice advantage from St. Louis, the Kings instead went ten minutes without a shot, and they allowed Patrik Berglund to tie the game on an odd goal early on. The Blues sprung themselves on a 3-on-2 rush against Keaton Ellerby and Jake Muzzin which was thisclose to being offside. Alex Pietrangelo (who had an otherwise rough game with partner Jay Bouwmeester) threw the puck to the front, and with Ellerby and Quick both attempting to knock the puck away, it took a deflection off Berglund and went in. This sent up a tense finale, but after Muzzin's turnover set up a golden opportunity for Schwartz (who whiffed on a shot with Quick flailing on the ice), neither team really threatened until the final minutes. Sure, Brown (SO CONTROVERSIAL) wiped out on a power move to the net, barreled into the goalpost, and inadvertently shook up himself and Elliott, but other than that, it was more of a slow burn than an explosive third.
However, the game settled itself before sudden death could strike. Jeff Carter nearly had a breakaway with three minutes left and couldn't quite gain control, and from there, the Blues looked far likelier to win it. With the Kings on their heels, the Blues got another 3-on-2 rush with under a minute left, and instead of throwing to the front as they did on goal #1, they hit the trailer: Barret Jackman. Jackman had never scored a playoff goal, but his wrister beat Quick cleanly; a nice shot, but one that Quick really needed to stop and blamed himself for allowing afterwards.
No last-second miracles for LA this time, and the Blues celebrated another unlikely conclusion to another tight game. The Kings will most likely need wins in Games 3 and 4 if they are to have a shot at making it past the first round, but they have been dynamite at home all season. And recall the last two times the Kings lost the first two games on the road in a playoff series: they won one series in six (2001 WCQF against Detroit) and pushed the other to a seventh game (2002 WCQF against Colorado). This one's far from over.