The No. 8-seeded Los Angeles Kings have played seven playoff games this spring against the Presidents' Trophy winner and a runner-up. They've lost just one of them.
That lone loss happened to be the one they could most afford to lose, too: Game 4 in their series with the Vancouver Canucks when they were playing with the house money of a 3-0 series lead.
Game 2 in their series with the St. Louis Blues Monday night wasn't exactly house money, but it wasn't a must-win after the Kings won the series opener on the road. They decided to take Game 2 anyway, and it wasn't even close.
Gaining firm control of the series, the Kings opened with a stunning 4-0 first-period on their way to a 5-2 win. This game wasn't nearly as close as their narrow 3-1 victory in Game 1, but the two contests do share some similar traits.
Kings Penalty Kill, Shorthanded Goals Kill Blues Again
Unlike Game 1, it was the Kings who started off strong in grabbing an early 1-0 lead Monday night. Yet just like Game 1, the turning point came on another Kings shorthanded goal -- this time on a dazzling display by Anze Kopitar that just might awaken people east of the Mississippi to the Slovenian's talents. (Memo to media: He even speaks good English! You should talk to him! Or, you know, watch him at least.)
Shorthanded goals in hockey, like turnovers and special-teams scores in football, completely alter the balance of the game and make a 5-on-5 evaluation tough to make. Kopitar's goal doubled the Kings' early lead and put the rest of Game 1 on an uneven, chippy course. The Blues reeled, checked out and conceded two more goals in the final 83 seconds of the first period, erasing any remnant of doubt.
The Blues already faced a tough matchup in L.A. at 5-on-5, but avoidable mistakes have led to the Kings' shorthanded goals in each of the first two games. Once again in Game 2, that shorthanded goal was preceded by an awkward endboard encounter, this time a pursuit of the puck resulting in Jamie Langenbrunner getting the painful end of a Willie Mitchell boarding minor.
Just like in Game 1, Kevin Shattenkirk was one of the goats as he was knocked off the puck by Dustin Penner 30 seconds in, leading to Mike Richards' opening goal, which sucked the pre-game frenzy out of the building. But with top Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo missing the game thanks to a boarding by Dwight King, additional responsibilities meant Carlo Colaiacovo joined Shattenkirk in the fatal turnover brigade. It was Colaiacovo's ill-advised pass that set up Kopitar's highlight-reel marker, putting an exclamation point on how much the Blues miss Pietrangelo's steady hand.
(King, by the way, atoned for his hit through the NHL's traditional ritual, accepting B.J. Crombeen's fight invitation off a faceoff.)
Finally, Game 2 saw the chippy play only hinted at in Game 1 reach a fever pitch with a thundering T.J. Oshie hit on Penner pushing things to the boiling point. The lopsided score certainly fed that atmosphere -- and the referees, as they so often do, took advantage of the lopsided score to give the leading team the majority of penalties before the parade of 10-minute misconducts began. (No matter for the Kings; their aggressive penalty kill simply dismissed all nine Blues power plays.)
It's been said these two teams are mirror images of each other, and they certainly match each other in the hard-hitting intensity department, usually staying on the all-too-rare clean side of the edge, too. If the Blues manage to take Game 3 and make a series of it, it should be a classic for neutral fans.
If not, well, maybe national media will finally discover this "Anze Kopitar" fellow in the next round.