The Los Angeles Kings needed a win last night, plain and simple. It would have been nice to see a confident, multiple-goal victory (a la the 2012 second round) to get the team back on track, but at this point, any win would have been acceptable. So getting a 1-0 win over the St. Louis Blues on the back of Jonathan Quick? We'll take it.
The Kings didn't dominate the first period by any stretch, but they got the majority of the shot attempts; however, the Blues' shot-blocking and a lack of rebounds meant no goals and not many great chances. Darryl Sutter got to experiment with his shiny new seven-defenseman lineup, and the strategy was evident early: Sutter would double-shift one of Justin Williams, Jeff Carter, and Trevor Lewis with fourth-liners Kyle Clifford and Colin Fraser every so often, while 7th D-man Keaton Ellerby was used primarily on the PK and to spell the other defensemen. It worked out reasonably well; Clifford and Fraser had pretty solid games all-around, and while most of our individual defensemen had some individual gaffes, they obviously didn't allow a goal. So that's good! Other than Doughty, not one D played more than 20 minutes.
Alec Martinez got just under 13 minutes in his return to the lineup, and he finished with the best Corsi number on the team thanks largely to a strong first-period showing. But he was on the ice with Slava Voynov in the second period when the Kings got their only goal of the game. Mike Richards threw the puck to the front of the net from a bad angle, and when the puck dropped down between Clifford and Brian Elliott, the fun began. Clifford took a whack, players from both teams crashed the net, and with Elliott unable to cover the puck, the referees restrained themselves from blowing the whistle. Clifford's persistence eventually got the puck free, and Trevor Lewis and Martinez (credited with assists) knocked the puck back to Slava Voynov. With Elliott scrambling, he didn't have a prayer when Voynov's shot found its way through traffic and in on the far side. It was the first 5-on-5 goal for Los Angeles this series, and with Brian Elliott still playing extremely well, the goal was going to have to stand up.
Fortunately, it did, despite our share of struggles. One area of concern was special teams. The Kings' power play looked awful all night, generating more scoring chances for the Blues than it did for LA. The two best SH opportunities for St. Louis came on a David Backes steal and breakaway (he burned Doughty with his speed but shot it wide, and his follow-up was stopped by Quick) and a near-repeat of the disastrous Game 1 overtime goal (Colin Fraser turned it over to Backes next to his own net and Quick barely kept it out). Meanwhile, the Kings PP featured players waiting for Blues to move into shooting lanes, then futilely trying to shoot it through them. That's not how it works, guys.
Meanwhile, the PK was hanging on for dear life at various points, but Quick kept making stops. His best was a reflexive pad save in the second period on, you guessed it, Backes. The critical PK came in the third period; David Perron was checked and didn't exactly go out of his way to avoid Quick; I'd give him the benefit of the doubt, except this is nothing new for him. Doughty retaliated and went after Perron, but instead of the usual coincidental minors, Doughty got four minutes, and the Kings had to kill the penalty without their #1 D-man. LA killed that one off, and they killed off a too-many-men penalty soon after. In fact, Dwight King (in the midst of decent performance with Richards and Carter) got a breakaway coming out of the box, but Elliott made a great glove save. That was one of two shots for the Kings in the third period, while the Blues got ten and missed a few golden opportunities. Though the final few minutes allowed St. Louis to win the shot battle and improve their overall even-strength numbers, LA endured the final few minutes for the victory. Check out the Time on Ice stats below; they got a shout out on CBC last night, good for them!
Voynov ended up as the second star, but the best skater on the ice for LA tonight had to be Justin Williams. Last night, Anze Kopitar looked like he was either battling an injury or skating in sand, and Dustin Brown was pretty invisible... unusual for him these days, as he's received a lot of notice for goals and awkward/dangerous (choose your side!) hits lately. But Williams carried his line tonight and singlehandedly brought the Kings offensive chances time and time again. Robert has some #fancystats to show how well Williams did at entering the zone and controlling the puck tonight, and even though the shot differential numbers weren't up to his usual standards, he was a main reason why the Kings weren't scrambling as much as they could have been. Meanwhile, he made a huge play at the other end with five minutes left, diving to clear a puck from the slot with Quick way out of position and Jordan Leopold ready to shoot. Williams didn't get a star from the LA media (they generously gave the Blues' Alex Pietrangelo the third star), but he was awarded JftC's Star of our Hearts... which should totally be a thing.
Finally, Jonathan Quick. He has rightfully caught blame for two game-losing plays this series, but he has otherwise been masterful in net, and tonight he was unbeatable. If you haven't yet, the Video Highlights link has plenty of Quick's saves, and you can spend the remainder of your day watching Quick deny Backes, Steen, Stewart, and the rest. It's a big if, but if LA can figure out a way to get their offense going, Quick gives this team a very good chance at advancing. The offense will need to be better than they were tonight, but on a night where the Kings needed to win by any means necessary, the Conn Smythe winner made the single goal stand up.