The Kings’ playoff experience lasted a total of seven days, and they can only hope they learned a valuable lesson on what it takes to win in the playoffs.
They surely had a good teacher in the St. Louis Blues, who completed a four-game sweep of their first-round series with a 2-1 victory over the Kings on Wednesday night in front of a sellout crowd of 16,005 at the Great Western Forum.
But as they did in Games 2 and 3, the Kings made the Blues sweat it out. With goaltender Stephane Fiset making his second start of the series because Jamie Storr was sidelined with post-concussion syndrome from the hit he took in Game 2 by St. Louis forward Geoff Courtnall, the Kings made a late third-period rally after falling behind by two goals.
After St. Louis checking center Craig Conroy put the Blues ahead, 2-0, 3:22 into the final period, the Kings got aggressive and almost sent the game into overtime.
Jozef Stumpel, who struggled against the Blues’ tight defense all series, scored his first goal of the playoffs when he knocked in a rebound from outside the right post to cut St. Louis’ lead to 2-1 at 8:00.
At 9:50, the Kings appeared to have tied the score when Glen Murray poked loose the puck from St. Louis goalie Grant Fuhr, who had it slip through his pads and two inches past the goal line.
But referee Stephen Walkom disallowed the goal because he had blown his whistle when he lost sight of the puck in Fuhr’s pads.
From there, the Blues played more conservatively and were able to hold off the Kings to advance to the second round.
“We played hard, but we didn’t play smart,” King defenseman Rob Blake said. “They took advantage of a lot of our mistakes. They are a veteran team and they beat us four straight pretty handily.”
After being called for 36 penalties over the first three games of the series, the Kings did not start Game 4 with the same energy they had in their two previous games.
St. Louis, which had a five-on-three power play for 1:14 in the first period, outshot the Kings, 13-8, over the opening 20 minutes but the teams went into intermission scoreless.
In the second period, the Blues got the pace of the game in their favor when the Kings started to exchange rushes. That led to the game’s first score as St. Louis scored first for the third time in the series.
Courtnall, who was booed by the Forum crowd all game, made the type of play that makes him so valuable to the Blues when he assisted on the first goal.
While banging against the Kings’ Aki Berg, Courtnall was able to get in front of Fiset, who stopped a shot from Terry Yake. Courtnall beat the Kings to the rebound and then passed to Pavol Demitra, who scored from outside the right post to give the Blues a 1-0 lead at 8:05 of the period.
In the third period, Conroy skated away from Stumpel and fired a shot from the right circle that bounced off Fiset’s blocker and the butt end of his stick into the net to give the Blues a 2-0 lead.
“I had a good head of steam coming down the wing, I didn’t see it go in, I don’t know what it hit but it hit something, his shoulder or something,” Conroy said.
That’s when the Kings decided, albeit in vain, to step up their play.
“The nice thing about the playoffs for our young players and even for our older players is that you learn so much more competing in a playoff series than you do during the regular season because there is so much more at stake,” King Coach Larry Robinson said. “The stakes are higher, the intensity is higher. Everything is higher. You always can get a much better read on your players when you see them perform in the playoffs than you do in the regular season.
“It’s not just for guys not performing [well], because [by] the same token, where a guy is just a so-so player during the year and then all of the sudden the playoffs come and he turns it up, you go ‘Oh, maybe we have a player here.’
“So, if nothing else . . . we get out the fact that we’ll know [who are] the guys willing to pay the price to win hockey games. That means we have some changes to make to get guys in willing to do that.”
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BY THE NUMBERS
GAME 4: KINGS vs. ST. LOUIS
7: Points for St. Louis Geoff Courtnall in series.
1 for 29: Kings’ power-play coversion rate in the series.
0: Number of playoff teams with less effective power play than the Kings.
8-1: Blues’ series advantage in power-play goals.
84: St. Louis goalie Grant Fuhr’s playoff victory total.
0-8: Kings’ playoff record against St. Louis (were also swept in 1969 playoffs). *
* WHO’S NO. 1?: Helene Elliott writes that the Kings must decide between goalies Jamie Storr and Stephane Fiset. C9