The St. Louis Blues managed to take full advantage of home ice in their Round 1 playoff series, beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 Thursday night at Scottrade Center to go up 2 games to none as the series shifts to the West Coast for a Saturday match-up in LA. Patrik Berglund pulled the Blues even and Barret Jackman scored inside the last minute of regulation to give St. Louis the victory. Brian Elliott stood on his head yet again stopping 28 of 29 shots for the win.
Game 2 was dramatically different for the Blues than Game 1. St. Louis roared out of the gate Tuesday night and were all over the Kings for most of the game. The Blues controlled the pace, initiated contact, and had their way with the LA defense until a late letdown, only to emerge victorious in overtime. Thursday night it was almost all Kings, all the time. The Blues found themselves on the wrong end of four power-plays in the 1st period alone and generally fumbled their way through most of the game.
To say the Blues were undisciplined might be a bit unfair. The officiating in Game 2, like most other aspects of the game for St. Louis, was erratic at best. For most of Tuesday the referees let the teams play but Thursday night the whistles were coming quickly and at the slightest provocation. That said, the Blues must stay out of the penalty-box moving forward. NHL Playoff teams are too good and giving so many chances is asking for trouble. Alex Steen was called for Tripping just 26 seconds after the initial puck-drop.
A short time later, still in the 1st, the Blues were half a minute into a Ryan Reaves penalty when Jackman was called for Interference, giving LA a 2-man advantage. Dustin Brown capitalized to take an early 1-0 lead. It would be the last penalty St. Louis would yield, but it was costly. The Kings held that lead throughout the game and with Jonathan Quick turning in another fine performance it seemed the Blues would let the momentum of their Game 1 stunner wash away with the rain.
Credit St. Louis with a little resilience. While the Blues failed to score on four separate power-plays of their own (not even registering a shot on two of them,) they finally managed an even strength goal when Berglund, rushing hard to the net, tipped in a pass from Alex Pietrangelo and tied things up at 3:44 of the 3rd period. The Scottrade Center had been buzzing for over 40 minutes but it came fully to life with the score knotted 1-1.
The Blues survived long enough to tie things up due largely to the play of Elliott (with a few LA missed chances thrown in) but things nearly came to a crashing halt about halfway through the 3rd. LA’s captain, Brown, pressured by Petro, went careening into the St. Louis goal sending Ells sprawling. He appeared to injure his right leg as the net flew off its moorings but remained in the game. He was apparently unavailable afterward to address the media.
St. Louis played much better in the 3rd period than they had in the first 40 minutes. Once the game was tied you could feel the energy coursing through Scottrade Center once again. The Blues fed off that vibe and picked up their pace on the ice, out-shooting LA 10-6 over the final 20 minutes and continuing to win timely face-offs. Just when it seemed there would be a second consecutive overtime game, St. Louis started up the ice for one more rush with Vladimir Sobotka taking a punishing hit, sacrificing himself to move the puck up to Chris Stewart who gained the offensive zone. Jackman, perhaps surprisingly though not altogether unlikely, became the Game 2 hero with 50.4 seconds left.
Jax would quip after the game, “I had my eyes closed, so I really didn’t see it. The building erupted, and it’s a pretty good feeling.”
I can imagine him firing off that shot with a hope and a prayer, his eyes squeezed shut, then hearing the deafening boom of the crowd as the puck hit the back of the net. True or not it’s a fantastic image, especially for the playoffs and particularly for the stalwart defenseman, not usually known for scoring goals, much less game-winners.
It wasn’t quite a gimme, but the Blues are now up two games on the reigning Cup Champs. The Kings never trailed in a playoff series during their run last year, now the teams will head to California where the Kings will hope their home ice proves as comforting to them as St. Louis was for the Blues. There’s no time for celebrating yet and while dramatics are usually reserved for Hollywood, I’ll take playoff wins and a series lead for the Blues any day, anywhere, any time.
GO BLUES! Long Live the Note!