It would be easy for the St. Louis Blues to celebrate just a little bit. They own a 2-0 lead over the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in a best-of-seven playoff series that continues Saturday night at Staples Center in California.
The Blues have put together two emotional victories on home ice against the same team that steamrolled them out of the playoffs in the second round last spring. The Kings outscored the Blues 15-6 during a four-game sweep on the way to winning the championship.
"I don't think there's one person in the room that thinks we're in control of anything other than the number that says 2-0," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after his team's emotional 2-1 Game 2 victory. "I don't feel like we feel like we're in control of anything. I don't think they feel like they're in control of anything. This is two teams that are going to fight this right to the end, and I think every player in that locker room knows that."
The Kings won an NHL-best 19 games on home ice this season and haven't lost there in the last seven games.
However, the only two goals they have against the Blues in this series came on a deflection by Dustin Brown during a 5-on-3 power play and another by Justin Elliott after the Kings pulled goalie Jonathan Quick for an extra attacker in Game 1. Scoring leader Anze Kopitar has now gone 18 games without a goal while 26-goal scorer Jeff Carter is still looking for his first of the postseason.
The Blues haven't been anywhere near an offensive machine either, winning Game 1 when Alexander Steen swiped the puck from Quick behind the net and Game 2 on defenseman Barret Jackman's first career playoff goal.
"They're not much better than we are and we're not much better than they are," Hitchcock said. "It's that close. Every shift seems like it's the last shift on earth. That's the way both teams are going at it and it's great hockey."
The Blues got a big scare midway through the third period Thursday when goaltender Brian Elliott had his right leg bent back in an unnatural fashion during a collision near the goalpost with Kings forward Dustin Brown. Elliott, who has won 13 of 15 starts and allowed one goal or none in 11 of those 13 victories, stayed down for several minutes while receiving medical attention. But Elliott eventually regained his composure, skated a bit and remained in net for the rest of the game. He has allowed just one goal in each of his last five starts and eight of his last nine.
The Blues got the anticipated push from the Kings in Game 2 and it took them nearly half the game to re-establish their own confidence and physical play that had served them so well in Game 1.
How have the Blues fought off the Kings? They've had a fairly big edge in faceoff success, winning 64 percent of the draws in Game 1 and 55 percent in Game 2. And while the Blues have not had a lot of success against Quick, they have beaten him at the most opportune times.
"We've got to get bodies in front of him, that type of rebound is the type of goals you'll score," said Patrik Berglund, whose rebound-deflection goal tied the Kings 1-1 early in the third period in Game 2. "There's not going to be too many pretty ones I think, so we've got to be around the net for sure."
Hitchcock also noticed the play of Berglund's line, which included an improved David Perron and T.J. Oshie.
"Bergie's had two great games," Hitchcock said. "To me, this is the best he's played all year. He's skating, he's handling the puck and the biggest thing is he's playing with great composure. I thought that line really started to follow his lead as the game wore on."