It was nearly a devastating outcome for the Blues in Tuesday night’s playoff opener against the Los Angeles Kings. When the Kings evened the score with just 31.6 seconds remaining in the game, it was hard not to flash back to last year’s Game One against the San Jose Sharks where the Blues had the better of the play the entire game, yet lost the lead late and it cost them. However, the outcome was different on Tuesday, and it’s a good thing for the Blues, because a loss would have devastated a group of players whose confidence would have been hanging in the balance.
It was Alex Steen that carried the team on his back Tuesday with two goals, including one 13:26 into overtime. Had Steen not come up with a timely goal, the Blues would have been left to kill off what remained of the King’s four-minute power play, an unlikely scenario with the Blues appearing to be gassed. Ken Hitchcock says that his team was being looked after.
"Hockey gods took care of us, they did," said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. "We played a great hockey game. Waking up tomorrow would have been a challenge if we didn’t win the hockey game. We’re hopefully going to gain a lot of confidence from this that we can compete with these guys and not just compete but actually win.”
It was the start to a grueling series, one that the Blues could certainly be considered the underdogs in. There were a combined 79 hits in game one, but the series is just getting started.
Had the Blues not been able to obtain the win on Tuesday, their psyche would have taken a massive hit. The Blues outplayed the Kings for the better part of 60 minutes. They had the better of chances, the harder hits, and the majority of their puck-possession time was spent on a relentless attack. However, to give up a goal late in the game and then lose in overtime would have been a hard situation to combat. Instead, the Blues now see that they can beat the Kings, but they understand that there is quite a ways to go in the series.
"I think that it would have been a shame not to win," Hitchcock admitted. "But when you’re the defending champion, you can’t just knock them off, you’re going to have to stick a pretty big nail in them, and we’re just getting started in this series."
The Blues saw the Kings at their best last season. On Tuesday, the Blues were the better of the two teams, playing as though game one was a must-win. But that’s because it was.
Any momentum given to the Kings is too much. The Blues saw the Kings push back late in the game, and sure enough, they tied it up courtesy of Justin William’s late goal. The Blues remained intact but were on their heels to begin the first overtime. It was the first time in the game that the Blues were being heavily outplayed.
Brian Elliott, who is becoming more solidified in his position in net as the days go by, stopped 28 of 29 Kings’ shots. The Kings are finding it is not as easy as it was last year to beat Elliott. The Blues are finding that Jonathan Quick is as solid as ever in goal. Lucky for the Blues, Quick’s rare mistake took place right in front of Alex Steen as he mishandled the puck and Steen capitalized. Had Steen not followed up on the play, this story would potentially look much different.
While the series remains in the early stages, Game One was as important as any. Instead of becoming a disastrous breakdown, the Blues salvaged the game. Thursday’s game should be another hard one as the Blues look to head to Los Angeles with a 2-0 series advantage. Game Two is the new Game One. It’s the only game the Blues can worry about right now, but it was certainly important to get the opening win.
“From our standpoint, we needed to talk about something other than coming close," said Hitchcock. "We needed to start talking about here’s how you win. You can only go to that well so many times where the players stop believing you. We gave a big push today and got rewarded for it. So we’ve got something to draw on now. We’ve got something to sell (to the players on Wednesday) morning and hopefully we come back with a similar effort."