Follow @frozenroyaltyEL SEGUNDO, CA — One day after their resounding 5-2 victory on April 30, which gave them a 2-0 series lead over the St. Louis Blues in their best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinal playoff series, the Los Angeles Kings knew that they were more than a bit lucky in Game 2.
“That was probably one of the worst periods they’ve had in their season, so far,” center Anze Kopitar said of the Blues’ play in the first period of Game 2.
Indeed, the Blues came out flat to start the game, totally abandoning the solid defense that was so successful for them this season. In fact, their defense was non-existent in the first period, allowing the Kings to drive through the middle of the ice, directly to the front of the net, totally uncontested.
“We had a really strong first period,” said right wing Jeff Carter. “We came out and did what we wanted to.”
In other words, the Kings played well in the first period, but they had it easy, as the Blues looked more like the Keystone Kops—the Blues gift-wrapped four goals, and inevitably, a Game 2 win, for the Kings.
When the ice chips had settled after the first period, the Kings took their 4-0 lead into the dressing room. But when they came out for the second period, as it turned out, they left much of what worked so well for them behind, rather than bringing it back onto the ice.
Despite getting a goal from right wing Justin Williams just 1:08 after Blues center Andy McDonald got his team on the board 0:18 into the second period, the Blues dominated the second and third periods, while the Kings sat back in what amounted to a “prevent” defense, resulting in some less-than-stellar play.
“It wasn’t the best, there’s no secret to it,” Kopitar noted. “We had what? Six shots the rest of the way? That’s not good. It didn’t hurt us last night—we had the start we wanted, but you want to stay consistent, and play [like they did in the first period] for sixty minutes.”
“Desperation mode kicked in for them,” Kopitar added. “They came at us hard, and scored an early goal, but we were focused enough to come right back, and answer that, making it a four-goal lead again. That was huge, but the rest of the way, I thought we played OK, [but] we didn’t play up to our standards.”
“I don’t think that was one of our best,” said Carter. “They picked up their game, and we sat back a bit. It was kind of a weird second and third, with all the penalties. There wasn’t much flow, and it took a lot of guys out of the game, with all the penalty-kills.”
The big lead may have given the Kings that sense of security that is often fatal.
“We weren’t very good, especially in the second period, and we took way too many penalties in the third,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “But we played great in the first, and having a four-goal lead like that, it’s kind of tough to play the rest of the game, mentally, and I didn’t think we did a great job with that.”
“You saw the lapse we had in last year’s playoffs against San Jose, when we let them comeback and win [when the Kings had a 4-0 lead, only to lose Game 3, 6-5 in overtime, on April 19, 2011], so we have to make sure that if we get up to a lead like that again, we don’t give them those chances to get back in the game.”
Looking up at a 2-0 series deficit, the Blues, who are a very well-coached team, with head coach Ken Hitchcock a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy for coach of the year, are expected to be more than ready for Game 3 on Thursday, May 3, at Staples Center (7:00 PM PDT).
“They’re going to be a desperate team,” Carter emphasized. “In the second and third [periods], they picked up their physical play. They were hard on the forecheck, and any chances they got to put a body on someone, they were going to, so I expect the same in Game 3. We know there’s areas we need to improve on, but we’ll do that over the next day, and we’ll be ready.”
“Any time you get down in a series, or even when a series is tied, you have to play with desperation,” said Kopitar. “They’re going to come in here, being down 2-0, and throw everything on the table. But we realize that. We know they’re a good team. But we’ve got to focus on us, and what made us successful in the first couple of games.”
“There’s room for improvement, and we have to be ready for everything in Game 3,” added Kopitar. “We have to be ready to play sixty minutes. They’re going to be ready. We have to be focused and ready to go.”
“They’ll be very desperate,” said Doughty. “They need this win, especially coming into our rink, with the home crowd going for us. They’re going to be playing as hard as they can, and doing everything they can—finishing checks, and blocking shots. It’s going to be tough game for us.”
In the second and third periods, the Blues tried to get the Kings off their game, with a lot of extracurricular activity after whistles. More of the same is likely for Game 3, but the Kings know they need to avoid that as much as possible.
“You’ve got to play whistle-to-whistle,” Kopitar noted. “What happens after that, you’ve got to stay away from as much as you can. But that’s part of the game, and we’re going to be ready for it.”
“We’re not going to be intimidated by any team we face,” Doughty stressed. “Right now, we’re focusing on that next game against St. Louis. They’re a good team, and I don’t think they’ve showed their best hockey yet. Going into the next one, they’re going to play their best, and we have to make sure that we do, too.”
“We’ve got to play them harder [in Game 3],” Doughty added. “We’ve got to treat it as if we don’t have those first two games under our belts for wins. We’ve got to come in as if the series was just starting, we’ve got home ice advantage, and that we’ve got to win both [games]. They’re going to look to be the spoilers in our barn, just like we were in theirs. It’s so important to win this first game, especially in front of our home crowd.”
Voynov’s Youth Showing Through
Rookie defenseman Slava Voynov’s skill has been an asset to the Kings this season, so much so that they were able to trade defenseman Jack Johnson to the Columbus Blue Jackets in order to acquire a scoring winger in Jeff Carter.
But the playoffs often expose weaknesses and inexperience, and despite scoring a big goal in Game 1 against the Blues, Voynov’s inexperience has been exploited in the post-season, both by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, and now, by the Blues.
One example came in the third period of Game 2, when he threw a clearing pass through the middle of the ice. The pass was easily picked off, and almost immediately turned into a goal for the Blues.
Voynov admitted that the playoffs were a very different animal from the regular season.
“It’s [such] a different game,” he said. “It’s [quicker, faster], and more physical everywhere. It’s more fun, because it’s so different. There’s no time to look off a guy, or thinking [about different options when you have the puck]. It’s quick, quick, quick every time.”
Although he did not mention Voynov specifically, head coach Darrryl Sutter pointed out that he was one of his team’s young defensemen who had struggled a bit.
“At times, [the Kings’ young defensemen] were awesome,” said Sutter. “At other times, it was the pressure of the situation—their composure, because we’re playing in such [pressure] situations.”
“At times, they had a hard time with it,” added Sutter. “They’re kids.”
Of course, no one is expecting Voynov to be playing like a seasoned, grizzled veteran yet. But it sounds like he knows what he has to improve upon.
“The game is faster, and I need to skate faster, think faster, and move the puck quicker,” said Voynov. “But sometimes, there isn’t enough time for me. I [need to work harder and play] better.”
2012 Western Conference Semi-Final, Los Angeles Kings vs St. Louis Blues, Game 2 Highlights, April 30, 2012
2012 Western Conference Semi-Final, Los Angeles Kings vs St. Louis Blues, Game 1 Highlights, April 28, 2012
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