Lack Of Finish May Be The Only Reason St. Louis Blues Failed To Get Past LA Kings
May 12, 2013 6 Comments
After dropping the first two games of the series, the Kings came back to win four straight, eliminating the Blues in six games.
It was a brutal, physical series, one that featured lots of tight checking, a battle for every inch of ice on every shift, and 479 hits between the two teams.
“We’re beat up and tired,” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said after Game 6.
“It was an extremely physical series,” said Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. “I don’t know what the numbers were, but every time they were in our end, it felt like guys were getting hit, getting a piece of our defensemen, and every time we were down there, it felt like we were getting a piece of them.”
“St. Louis is a heck of a hockey team,” said Kings right wing Justin Williams. “They gave us everything we could handle. They have some big bodies, and they certainly had motive and incentive to give everything [they had]. They want to get to that next level. They want to be a championship team, and we were standing in their way. We were able to weather it, and we were able to overcome how they played.”
The Blues believed that the difference in the series was their inability to finish, compared to the Kings.
“I think we played pretty similar styles,” said Blues forward T.J. Oshie. “Last year, they pushed us out, and I don’t think anyone would deny that. But this year, it was two strong, defensive, hard-hitting teams going back and forth with each other, and going hit-for-hit, in a way. They just squeaked in more goals than we did.”
“For us, it was missed opportunity,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “We had a lot of people play very hard, [but we] didn’t get timely goals. That’s what the playoffs [are]. Goaltending is a big part of it, and I thought the best player in this series was their goalie. In the end, he made the big saves. When we had the five or six close-in chances tonight, he made the big saves.”
“I just felt that we allowed a goalie to outwork us,” added Hitchcock. “I know it’s the most important position in our sport, but I think, if you want to get to the next level, you can’t allow that to happen.”
Hitchcock indicated that more was expected and needed from his top players.
“What I’m going to tell [his players] is that it’s not good enough,” he said. “If you want to be a champion, it’s not good enough. You can’t allow the goalie to outwork you. If you want to be a champion, you have to find a way. We’re a pretty hungry group here, from management to coaches, to put a championship team together, and it’s not good enough.”
“We can lament on missed opportunities, and how hard we played,” he added. “We really bought in for the last two months, in a big way, which gave us a real good feeling about ourselves. But [when] you get opportunities like this, like we did in Game 3, in Game 5, and again tonight, you can’t miss those opportunities.”
“I hope our players, when they pause and reflect about it, are really pissed off, and disappointed in the opportunity that we missed here, because we didn’t finish. We took everything to the beach, but we didn’t finish putting it in the water. That’s disappointing, and we’re going to have to live with that the rest of the summer.”
Although it will not serve as consolation for the Blues, outside of their inability to finish, they were actually the dominant team in the series.
Last season, when the two teams met in the playoffs, the Kings got what became their trademark forecheck going. They kept the puck in the St. Louis zone for what seemed like an eternity, and they did it time and time again. They dominated the Blues, not just on the scoreboard, but territorially as well, leading to a 4-0 series sweep on their way to the 2012 Stanley Cup Championship.
But this time around, the skate was on the other foot. In fact, it was the Blues who established a fierce, relentless forecheck, while the Kings struggled to get what little pressure they could generate in the offensive zone. Indeed, with the exception of Game 4 (a 4-3 Kings win), the Blues spent the vast majority of the series forechecking the Kings to death—they dominated the Kings, territorially…just not on the scoreboard.
While it would be easy to point to the brilliant play of Quick as the key difference in this series—he earned a 1.58 goals-against average (GAA), a .944 save percentage, and one shutout, which are magnificent numbers—that would ignore the fact that the Blues whiffed on numerous, glorious scoring opportunities, usually from point blank range, whether they clanked a shot off the goal post, or missed a gaping net completely.
In fact, the Blues missed the net on enough of those glorious chances that they probably should have scored four or five easy goals. That would have likely turned the series in their favor—they would be continuing to the second round, not the Kings.
But the Kings know that they relied way too much on the play of Jonathan Quick, and that they have some work to do before the second round begins.
“We still have some work to do,” said Kings center Mike Richards. “We played well enough to win the series, but we can still get better. That was our goal from Day One this year, to improve, right through to the last day.”
“I think we won the series without playing our best hockey, certainly,” said Williams. “That is, obviously, a positive, a huge positive, especially beating a great team like St. Louis.”
“I just think there are some things that we could do a lot better,” added Williams. “Our top line—myself, [center Anze] Kopitar and [winger Dustin] Brown—need to be better, moving forward for us to keep advancing in these playoffs.”
“We got by by playing great defensively and scoring timely goals, but sometimes, that can only take you so far. We need everybody on top of their game. That’s what we had last year, and that’s what we’re going to need if we want to keep stringing wins together, and series wins.”
The Blues neutralized the Kings forecheck through physical play, and by controlling the neutral zone, preventing the Kings from generating speed on attack, and getting in on Blues defensemen in the corners.
“I can’t quantify it, but I know we have to be a lot better for 60 minutes,” said Kings left wing Dustin Penner. “Our special teams have been pretty good. [In] our five-on-five game, we need to be stronger on pucks, and better between our blue line and their blue line.”
“Is [the forecheck] something we need improvement [on]? Yes,” Williams noted. “Obviously, we do. We need to be more clean coming out of our zone, and that’s what it starts with. When you’re cleaner coming out of your zone, you’re going to spend less time in it, and more time in the offensive zone.”
Despite the heavy territorial advantage for the Blues, the Kings were able to weather the storm, in large part due to their experience.
“It comes from the run we had last year,” said Quick. “We have that sense of confidence that, even if we’re down, we could win some games and get back into it.”
“I really don’t think there was any panic,” Williams explained. “It would’ve been an extremely daunting task if we didn’t win those two games at home. We played well at home all year. It seems like there’s a sense of comfort when we’re in our dressing room, it’s just the players in there, you look around, you know what everyone’s capable of, and you know that come crunch time, they’re going to get it done for you.”
“I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s the case when other players look around the room as well,” Williams elaborated. “That confidence is something we’ve earned, and something we’ve been through. It’s a feeling that we can beat anybody.”
Without finding their missing-in-action forecheck and playing more in the offensive zone, the confidence Quick and Williams spoke of likely won’t be enough to get the Kings beyond the second round of the playoffs, let alone into the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
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Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Justin Williams (7:30)
Dustin Penner (3:03)
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