Kings’ Game 3 victory over Blues rewards fans
To generations of Kings fans conditioned to expect playoff misfortunes, this was a sweet and gratifying moment, their every hope realized and their every fear quashed, the old playoff ghosts put to rest.
To a franchise whose crowning postseason moments are so rare and so old they’re classified as ancient relics, the Kings’ 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday was a defining moment, a performance so cohesive and impressive that it would be held up as a new standard if it weren’t like so many other exemplary efforts the Kings have mustered this spring.
Moving the puck quickly and surely out of their own zone in what has become their signature style, matching the Blues push for shove and then shove again, the Kings on Thursday moved within one win of reaching the Western Conference finals, a place they have been only once before in their cursed postseason history.
They are beyond the power of illegally curved sticks and meltdowns to bring them down, too well-coached by Darryl Sutter and too well-knit by their own efforts to be bothered by the adversity that used to bring them to their knees.
A roaring crowd of 18,362 at Staples Center so long accustomed to seeing the worst instead saw the best this team has to offer, and it was as stirring a sight from the stands as it was from the ice.
“It’s about time we gave them the best,” center Jarret Stoll said. “We haven’t been, from our standards, up to par at home for sure. We’ve played well and won a lot of games on the road but to give them a good, solid, 60-minute effort like this was important for us.
“To get that standing ovation, the way they were cheering at the end, I had chills going through the pile at the end. It means a lot to us in here. We have a lot of pride and a lot of respect for our fans.”
They could not be brought down by the No. 1-seeded Vancouver Canucks in the first round and they are one game away from putting the No. 2-seeded Blues in their rearview mirror too. That’s not too shabby.
“It’s not too shabby,” Stoll said, agreeably, “but that was the regular season how those teams were ranked. We feel we’re a pretty good team in here. When we’re playing together and everyone’s going and we’re doing the right things with the right attitude we feel we can beat anybody.”
And so they have so far.
Their success has come from so many sources. From Sutter’s insistence that they bring the puck up ice quickly, on the premise that the less time they spend in their zone the less danger they’ll be scored upon. From rookies Jordan Nolan, Dwight King and Slava Voynov infusing the speed this team lacked most of the season. From the example of Dustin Brown playing a battering, physical game that sets a high bar his teammates are so eager to match.
And, of course, from goaltender Jonathan Quick, whose excellence was a beacon that led them through their darkest hours earlier this season. As individual pieces they might not seem like much. As a whole, they are cohesive and only now starting to realize their potential.
“Things are going well because we’re working hard right now,” said winger Justin Williams, who scored the Kings’ first goal on Thursday. “Guys are paying the price, doing every little thing that’s important at playoff time. That includes boxing out, letting the goalie see pucks, not letting second opportunities get in and, obviously special teams again.”
They got their first power-play goal of the series, by Mike Richards, to take a 3-1 lead midway through the second period and then added a timely goal, a blast by Drew Doughty through an overwhelmed Brian Elliott, to give themselves breathing room at 8:12 of the third. It’s all working, all meshing, all new and fresh and a revelation.
“They outplayed us,” Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They were better.”
He’s not the first person to say that about the Kings. He likely won’t be the last.
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