Los Angeles Kings sweep their way into Western Conference finals
That break between Kings appearances in the final four of the Stanley Cup playoffs lasted a lot longer than anyone ever intended, anticipated or dreamed possible.
Nineteen years, in fact.
It’s little wonder that the final 20 minutes of the Kings’ 3-1 victory against St. Louis in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals Sunday at Staples Center felt something almost like two decades.
They became the first No. 8 team to eliminate the top two seeded teams in a conference, taking out No. 1 Vancouver in five games and sweeping the No. 2 Blues in four.
They reached the third round of the playoffs for the second team in franchise history with flawless penalty killing, stellar goaltending from Jonathan Quick and a combined 12 points in the series from Anze Kopitar and captain Dustin Brown, who scored twice in Game 4, his second an empty-netter with 25.8 seconds left.
Kopitar said he had never heard it so loud in Staples Center, not just the last minute of play but the last three minutes of action. The only other time the Kings got out of the second round they did it at their old home, the Forum, in 1993.
Still, the Kings were level-headed, pointing out that they were only halfway done with the job. Two rounds down with two to go. They will play the winner of the Phoenix-Nashville series in the conference finals.
“It means something, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win the whole thing,” said center Jarret Stoll. “So it feels good. We’ll celebrate it for a couple of hours.”
Maybe even three.
“L.A. plays the way you have to play to win the Cup now,” Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They play the game the right way. I’m sure they’ve had stumbles along the way to figure it out. But it looks to me like they’ve figured it out.”
They may have had their stumbles in the second round but never stayed down for long, almost like Brown or defenseman Drew Doughty bouncing back after being pummeled with a hard check.
The only player to solve Quick in Game 4 was Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who tied it, 1-1, with a blast from above the right circle, going in just under Quick’s arm at 11 minutes 34 seconds of the first period.
That was it.
The second-best goalie for the Kings was Kopitar, who came to the rescue in the third period. The Kings were clinging to a 2-1 lead on first-period goals by rookie Jordan Nolan and Brown when Kopitar made the goal-saving play in the mad whirl of confusion, pushing the puck under Quick’s glove with the Blues’ David Perron looming.
“I don’t think I managed anything,” said Quick, who has a save percentage of .949 in the playoffs. “I think Kopi did it all. He had the touch just to be able to feather it to me and it’s out there. So I got a piece of the first one, through a screen. The rebound kicked out and I was scrambling.
“It’s a game-saver right there. That’s in the net if he doesn’t get there and block it.”
The save came with the teams playing four on four and the Kings in reactive mode. They were outshot, 13-3, in the second period and some of that caution slipped into their game in the third.
“I saw the puck trickle toward the line and I was able to get my stick on it,” said Kopitar, who had two assists. “And luckily Quickie was there and he was able to cover up after that.”
Said Brown, who used Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo as a screen to score the game-winner, at 18:17 of the first: “I think it speaks volumes when you have probably your best skill player laying down to sacrifice, doing whatever he can to prevent the goal.”
Hitchcock compared Quick to such goaltending luminaries as six-time Vezina Trophy winner Dominik Hasek and Hall of Famer Ed Belfour.
“We have not found a way to outwork him,” Hitchcock said. “He made five, maybe six, unbelievable saves off the second shot. But that’s who is he. He never quits on the puck and we weren’t able to put it through him.”
Not long after Hitchcock spoke about Quick, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi was in the hallway discussing the growth of the goalie. He thought of the time, years ago, when the organization dispatched someone to the minors to tutor Quick.
Quick was sleeping, not skating, according to Lombardi.
“He left the goalie coach with no goalie on the rink. That’s how far Jonathan Quick has come,” Lombardi said, shaking his head. “I’ll never forget that phone call. ... Quicker is sleeping. So you don’t think there is some growth there?”
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