Spector on NHL: Blues left door wide open for Kings

After Jonathan Quick's slow start, L.A.'s defensive mastery erased each and every player that matters for St. Louis with physically dominant, low-shot, grinding hockey. (AP/Jae C. Hong)

LOS ANGELES – Forget about how this series ended on a break for the Kings – a second period prayer by Dustin Penner that deflected off of Roman Polak’s stick and past Brian Elliott for the eventual game-winner, with 0.2 seconds left.

The St. Louis Blues got enough breaks to put the defending Stanley Cup champions away, and they failed. That’s it, and Blues fans that is all.

Goalie Jonathan Quick handed St. Louis Games 1 and 2 on brutal gaffes, but rather than clamp down on a series like a championship-calibre team would, St. Louis left the door open for a championship team to walk on through.

“What I’m going to tell (my players) is, it’s not good enough,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said after another tight-to-the-vest, low shots (22-16 for St. Louis), 2-1 game. “If you want to be a champion, it’s not good enough. You can’t allow the goalie to outwork you. If you want to be a champion, you’ve got to find a way.

“You get opportunities like we did in Game 3, and Game 5, and tonight. You can’t miss those opportunities,” he continued. “I hope our players, when they pause and reflect on this, they’re really, really pissed off. We brought everything to the beach, and didn’t get it into the water.”

Without those two freebies from Quick, St. Louis would have only scored eight goals in this series. As it was, the six-game totals were L.A. 12, Blues 10, and six straight one-goal games, the final four straight won by Los Angeles.

“That’s kind of like a sweep, I guess,” Penner laughed. “But it’s definitely a relief. They got unlucky a few times, and we got lucky.

“They don’t call it the second season for nothing. It’s a long grind, and it’s only 10 days in and guys are banged up. That’s when your will has a chance to shine through, and ours did.”

In the Kings room, they can positively smell the Cup run from last season. After Quick’s slow start, L.A.’s defensive mastery erased each and every player that matters for St. Louis with physically dominant, low-shot, grinding hockey.

Their game is like a bulldog – beautiful to some, damned ugly to others. But it won it all last spring, and they’re into Round 2 again this year.

“I think it was after the last game somebody said whoever gets the last bounce or break in the series is going to win, and fortunately it was us,” Mike Richards said.

This was the best of the Round 1 series – if you are a coach, player or fan of the two teams. On average, every game ended 2-1, and the shots read 30-25 for St. Louis.

There were more hits than Motown in the ’60s, but the goalies were better than the scorers by some margin.

While Kings Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty and Jarret Stoll combined for two goals in this series, the Blues core of T.J Oshie, David Backes, David Perron, Chris Stewart and Andy McDonald combined for just three.

And that, folks, is why a good Blues team couldn’t deliver on its promise – despite being handed Games 1 and 2 by Quick. That and the fact Quick was better than Elliott in the end.

“The people that we count on, that we’ve grown, need to play better to get us to the next level,” Hitchcock said.

“It’s getting to be a broken record, but we still didn’t get the job done,” Backes said. “Up two-nuthin’, to lose four straight, it’s pretty sour right now.

“You only get so many years in the league,” he lamented. “You only get so many times to the playoffs to try and make a run. This team was hot going into the playoffs, added pieces at the deadline, didn’t stand pat or sell. We took on some big players and were expecting better than this.”

While the loss means everything to St. Louis, it is simply an affirmation in Los Angeles, where the Kings look like a team that might repeat more than any other Cup champion in recent history.

“I don’t think you get much for winning four games,” head coach Darryl Sutter said. “Other than tomorrow off.”

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