ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 28: Linesman Brian Murphy #93 gets between Jordan Nolan #71 of the Los Angeles Kings and Barret Jackman #5 of the St. Louis Blues in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scottrade Center on April 28, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Alex Pietrangelo's injury represented a turning point, but the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings delivered a tight, hard-forechecking show as advertised in the Kings' Game 1 victory.
If you want to win what should be a closely-fought playoff series, one effective tactic is to take out the opponent's best defenseman with a check from behind.
Los Angeles Kings forward Dwight King essentially went this route midway through Game 1 when he boarded St. Louis Blues star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who did not have the puck. Pietrangelo's face went into the boards, and after a brief return, he was out for the rest of the game. Better yet, with the score tied 1-1, King received only a two-minute minor for boarding.
As if still stunned by the minor call, the Blues gave up a shorthanded goal after a miscue on the ensuing faceoff. Kevin Shattenkirk -- who had a miserable, mistake-prone game -- pinched too aggressively off that faceoff and missed the puck after it caromed off faceoff taker David Backes. The Blues' power play was slow to react to the breakdown, and a 3-on-2 resulted in Andy Greene's goal, which was ultimately the game-winner.
The NHL's curious officiating regime was on display when, in the third period, T.J. Oshie drew a double-minor for high-sticking after drawing blood. Oshie's penalty came off an inadvertent collision with Colin Fraser where neither player appeared to see the other. But NHL officials tend to hide behind the letter of the law -- hey, Oshie drew blood, right? Easy to just issue the "causing injury" double-minor, even though Fraser's flesh wound didn't cost him a shift, and not venture into judgment calls.
So while King's hit was by far the more destructive -- Pietrangelo didn't even have the puck when he was launched from behind -- the lazy NHL tradition is to penalize Oshie twice as much as King, who arguably could've been tossed for an interference major. Fraser said he just "leaned" into Pietrangelo, and the NHL offered its own statement, hilariously parsing about when the cut on Pietrangelo's face was observable [emphasis mine]:
In these situations, if a player is cut to the face, and it's visible right away, instantly, they'll call a major ... in most cases. In this case, they didn't see the cut, the small cut, under his chin from what I've been told until up to a minute or so after when they were over by the bench. So it was a delay, a period of time that went by, and it's tough for them to go over and say, 'It's a major now' ... because they didn't see it after the scrum. He got off the ice. There was no visible blood. If it was running down his forehead or his cheek, it's automatic. It's a major game-misconduct.
Reminder memo to NHL players: Be sure to bleed quickly and profusely, as it's the difference between a minor and a game misconduct.
Regardless, back to the game: While the sequence of Pietrangelo's injury represented a narrative turning point in the game, the Kings had steadily swung the pendulum of pressure the other way as the game's middle frame continued on. Though outplayed in the first period, the Kings escaped that frame with a 1-1 tie and steadily turned the screw on the Blues for the rest of the game.
A third period that featured eight minutes of Kings powerplay time helped them extinguish the game and earn a victory on the road in Game 1 for the second series in a row.
As expected, the game was a close contest throughout, with stretches of entertaining forechecking from both teams. Jonathan Quick made some stunning saves early on to delay the Blues lead and, once earned, keep it from being extended to 2-0. Dustin Penner iced things with a wacky bank-shot empty net goal to achieve the final 3-1 result. Both the NBC Sports broadcast and written reports indicated the chirping picked up as the game progressed, and with Pietrangelo's injury, this has the makings of an intense, bitter series already.
Game 1 delivered as billed for hockey fans. Here's to hoping the Pietrangelo injury isn't a lasting one that dampens the show.