The St. Louis Blues failed to hold multiple leads and lost to the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 Monday night at the Staples Center in LA. Despite two goals from TJ Oshie, the Blues fumbled the game and their series lead and head back to St. Louis to face the Kings in Game 5 Wednesday night tied two games apiece. Brian Elliott stopped 25 of 29 shots he faced.
St. Louis started Game 4 looking like a team on a mission. Bound and determined to finally finish plays, take advantage of extra chances, and solve LA goalie Jonathan Quick, the Blues jumped out to an early lead. They did almost everything right in the first half of the opening period Monday night, with David Backes scoring on a rebound and Oshie netting a power-play goal. Five minutes into the game the Blues held a 2-0 lead and seemed to be on their way to taking control of the series.
The Backes goal came barely over a minute in, and it was a picture perfect example of the Blues capitalizing on Quick’s aggressive style, something they couldn’t manage in Game 3. St. Louis moved the puck up the ice smoothly and Jay Bouwmeester fired a shot wide. Quick came out high to cut down the angle but left the net wide open for Backes, in just the right position to bang the puck home.
To say the Blues had been struggling on the power-play would be a gross understatement. After scoring on their 1st man-advantage of the series they’d gone their last 12 chances without a goal, until Monday night. Oshie, screening Quick, got his stick on a shot from outside by Kevin Shattenkirk for his first ever playoff goal.
St. Louis couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game and I hoped they’d keep the pedal floored. They didn’t, and against the defending Cup champs, that’s just asking for trouble. LA was happy to oblige, taking advantage of two bad pinches by Blues defensemen and scoring twice before the horn sounded on the opening 20 minutes of play. Jeff Carter was sprung on a breakaway and scored to make it 2-1 at 9:33 and five minutes later the Kings would skate in on a 3-on-1 thanks to a horrible play at the LA blue line by Jordan Leopold.
Dustin Penner finished the gorgeous tic-tac-toe passing display to tie the game 2-2. The Blues, who had given up only three goals in the previous three games had hung Elliott out to dry not once but twice in a matter of minutes with bad puck control and poor decisions. The strength of this St. Louis team had morphed into a pathetic mockery of itself and it cost the Blues the game, the series lead, and any momentum they still clung to from winning the first 2 games at home.
The Kings dominated the Blues throughout the 2nd period, out-shooting St. Louis 13-6 and out-muscling them for the puck in almost every area of the ice and winning battles the Blues had been winning for three games in a row. Somehow, the Blues maintained their relative dominance in the face-off circle and Oshie managed to put the Blues up 3-2 with his second goal of the night. The lead was deceiving however, as St. Louis remained on its heels for the rest of the night.
The pressure by LA finally got to Ells and the Blues in the 3rd period. Roman Polak, in particular, had one of the worst overall games by a St. Louis defenseman that I can remember. He inexplicably sent the puck behind his net rather than clear it up the boards and, while the rest of the team fought (unsuccessfully) for the puck, stood flat-footed in front of Elliott while Anze Kopitar skated in behind him to tie the game 3-3.
Barely a minute later, Justin Williams, parked in front of Elliott and Polak, would tip in a shot from the left circle to give the Kings their first lead of the game and what would ultimately be the game-winning-goal.
The Blues obviously got goals from forwards Monday night, something they’d been struggling to do this series and really throughout the last month of the regular season. Elliott made some good saves to keep the game close but had very little chance to stop any of the 4 LA goals. This loss was not on him. The Blues made too many mistakes with the puck on defense, positioned themselves poorly on defense, and couldn’t give their forecheckers footing by continually failing to get the puck deep into the offensive zone.
The line of Oshie, Patrik Berglund, and David Perron was on the ice for all four LA goals. Polak was on for most of them, along with his partner Barret Jackman, though I think all of the St. Louis defensemen fell short Monday night. Jaden Schwartz continued to play like a man possessed, stealing pucks from much bigger Kings skaters, never giving up on plays in the corners, but one guy can’t do all the work.
The “CPR” line, broken up to accommodate Vladimir Tarasenko, ostensibly added to the lineup to provide a scoring boost, was ineffective and primarily invisible, and was on the receiving end of big hits more often than not. The Russian rookie saw barely five minutes of ice time, and the move left me scratching my head given that he was hardly used. He can’t score from the bench, am I right?
The series is now a best-of-three match-up, and while the Blues have two of those games at home all the momentum is with the Kings. All the pressure is on St. Louis to maintain that home-ice advantage. Wednesday night’s game is a “must win” if the Blues hope to stay in this thing and have a solid chance at moving on into Round Two. The sky isn’t falling, yet, but the Blues better do a double-take, wake up and smell the coffee, pull up the boot straps, or whatever they feel necessary to avoid another game like Monday’s if they don’t want to be watching the playoffs from the outside by mid-May.
GO BLUES! Long Live the Note!