Some games are masterpieces, the hockey equivalent of works of art. Then there was Friday’s sixth game of the Western Conference quarter-final, won by the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 over the visiting St. Louis Blues. No Picassos here. It was plough-horse hockey all the way, a tough grind-it-out war between two physical and evenly matched teams.
Much of the game was played on the boards and in the corners. It was a mucker’s delight, a grinder’s paradise – and a game that was decided when the world’s most celebrated pancake eater, Dustin Penner, scored with two-tenths of a second remaining in the middle period, to give the Kings the win and set up a match-up with either the Anaheim Ducks or the San Jose Sharks in the second round.
L.A. overcame a 2-0 series deficit for only the second time in franchise history by winning the final four games in the best-of-seven series. The Kings haven’t exactly been road warriors this season, but they won the fifth game in St. Louis and took all three at the Staples Centre. Counting Friday’s victory, they are now 22-4-1 this season, regular-season and playoffs, at home, including 10 wins in a row.
“Six one-goal games, that’s about as close as you get,” said goaltender Jonathan Quick. “It could have gone either way. They played a great series.”
The Kings and Blues play a similar, heavy style and as Quick noted, there was little to choose from between the two teams. Ultimately, if there was a slight edge, it was in goal, where Quick, their playoff MVP during last year’s run to the Stanley Cup, played extraordinarily well again in Game 6.
Quick had an unfortunate start to this year’s post-season, turning the puck over to the Blues’ Alex Steen in overtime of the first game behind his own net to gift St. Louis a victory. But Quick was lights-out good after that as the Kings found a way of winning an evenly played series.
“Whatever happened the night before doesn’t mean anything,” said Quick. “You just got to regroup. It comes from the run we had last year. We have that sense of confidence, even if we’re down, we could win some games and get back into it.”
Penner said Quick’s composure was something that ultimately ran through the team, from the coaching staff down to the players and used an example from the world of golf to make his point.
“I once read a quote from Ben Hogan,” said Penner. “You just build a wall around every shot. You start fresh on the next face-off. You can’t worry about the past. You just go out and play the next shift and try and do better. Simple. There’s no secret to success. It’s just hard work and will.”
The winning goal came with time running out in a second period in which St. Louis held a considerable territorial edge. The Kings’ Penner – famously injured last year while tucking into a stack of his wife’s pancakes - took a pass from defenceman Rob Scuderi at centre ice and hustled to get over the blue line, knowing time was running out. Two steps into the zone, Penner launched a slap shot that deflected off defenceman Roman Polak and according to Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock, moved about four feet before getting past goaltender Brian Elliott.
Replays showed two-tenths of a second remained in the period when the puck crossed the line.
“It was a fortunate break for us,” said Penner, who admitted he didn’t know how much time was left on the clock, but had a little help from his friends.
“The bench was yelling, ‘shoot’ so I knew I didn’t have much time. I just tried to put everything into it.”
The look of disgust on Hitchcock’s face spoke volumes, considering how well his team had played to get the game back on even terms in the second. Hitchcock wasn’t looking for silver linings post-game either and said his message to his team was that “it wasn’t good enough, if you want to be a championship team.”
“They played great,” said Penner. “They hit some posts. It’s a game of inches and we found ourselves on the right side of them – but we’re going to have to play a lot better to get through the next round.”
Drew Doughty scored the Kings’ first-period goal, on a nice play, taking a drop pass from Colin Fraser, faking a slap shot and then wristing it past Elliott, stick side, 12:37 into the game.
It stayed that way until the Blues’ Chris Porter counted his first of the series, deflecting a Polak slapper behind Quick 4:39 into the second.
Porter’s goal came after the Blues had kept the Kings hemmed in their own zone for a concerted period. David Backes made the play possible, sending a pass back to Polak at the point from the area just in front of Quick’s crease.
Quick made two notable saves later in the period, after Ryan Reaves broke past the Kings’ defence. Not only did Quick get his right pad down flat to stop the shot, he wouldn’t give up the post and thus foiled Kevin Shattenkirk on the rebound.
Later, Kings’ captain Dustin Brown forced Polak into a turnover and had a clear breakaway from centre. But Elliott stayed with him, and as Brown deked to his backhand, he lost the puck off his stick before he could get a clean shot off.
Kings centre Mike Richards said his initial reaction to winning the series was relief.
“It was a tough, close hard-hitting series and a lot of guys have some bumps and bruises,” said Richards. “We have a couple of days now before Anaheim has to play (a Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings) so we have some time to recover. It’s a hard hockey team to play against over there. They grind it out. We grind it out. It was definitely, a hard series.”
The Kings took Kyle Clifford out of the line-up for undisclosed reasons, putting Jordan Nolan and rookie Tyler Toffoli in on the fourth line.