LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - For the Los Angeles Kings, it all came down to resilience and winning the final period as they faced the daunting prospect of trailing the St. Louis Blues 3-1 in their best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series.
In front of a packed house at Staples Center, the Stanley Cup champions were stunned by two early Blues goals in Monday’s Game Four and despite clawing their way back to 2-2, they again fell behind by the second intermission.
“Just win one period” was the team’s mantra as they huddled in their locker room before coming out for the final period and they delivered in style, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams scoring 76 seconds apart to seal a 4-3 win for Los Angeles.
“There’s a lot of resilience in this room,” Kings left wing Dustin Penner told reporters after the fifth seeds leveled the playoff series at 2-2 with Game Five set for St. Louis on Wednesday and Game Six back in Los Angeles on Friday.
“The game has a funny way of making you question it, but we have a lot of resolve and obviously we draw on experiences from last year.”
Penner described how the Kings had set themselves small building blocks going into the final period in a bid to erase a 3-2 deficit after T.J. Oshie had scored his second goal of the night with a wrist shot to put the Blues in control.
“Just win one period,” Penner said. “We had tied one, lost one. If we could just win this period - small goals for ourselves - then that would lead into a big one.
“And get pucks to the net, get inside their D and create havoc for (St. Louis goaltender Brian) Elliott. The game tests you in different ways. We definitely earned this one.”
Game Four was surprisingly electrifying for the fans as it followed three low-scoring affairs highlighted by two of the best defenses in the league and a pair of outstanding goalies.
Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy last season as the most valuable player in the playoffs, had looked near-impregnable for the Kings as he stopped 93 of 97 shots in the first three games. Elliott had impressively stopped 76 of 79.
On Monday, however, Quick was beaten twice in the first five minutes of play, a wide open David Backes scoring with a wrist shot after just 72 seconds and Oshie making it 2-0 for the fourth seeds with a tip-in during a power play after 4:32.
Panic was never likely to set in, though, for a Kings team that became the first eighth seed to win a Stanley Cup last year after upsetting the Western Conference’s top three seeds along the way.
“It’s not about morale on our team,” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said. “It sounds repetitive, but this team has resilience. There was no faction, when it was 0-2, that it was ‘Throw it in’ or ‘What’s going on?’
“That’s not the way it works. And there was really nothing to build back. They scored a weak goal, then they scored a power-play goal. We got a big goal from Jeff (Carter) which makes it 2-1 and that’s pretty how much how the series has gone.
“Score was 4-3 coming in tonight in 10 periods and after three periods tonight it was 4-3 again ... so you play 13 periods and it’s 7-7. That’s how close it is.”
The Kings have now won nine straight games at home for a 21-4-1 overall record at Staples Center this season, but they have lost eight in a row on the road, including the first two games of this series.
“We are going back home,” smiled St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. “We are in a good position still. You just have to approach it like it’s a three-game series now.
“We just have to get back to doing the things that made us successful. We have to get back to skating and getting on the fore-check. This time of the year it’s real close. You don’t have to change a lot but sometimes it makes a big difference.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue