The St. Louis Blues were confident they could push the Los Angeles Kings to the brink of elimination when they took a one-goal lead into the third period of Game 4.
Then the defending Stanley Cup champions pushed back and this highly entertaining first-round series became all even again.
Anze Kopitar tied it with 12:46 to play, Justin Williams tipped home the go-ahead goal 76 seconds later, and the Kings evened their first-round series with a 4-3 victory over the Blues late Monday night.
"They took the game to another level, and we didn't have an answer," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team has lost seven straight at L.A.'s Staples Center. "We made two mistakes, two really poor mistakes to give them odd-man rushes to get them back in the game, but even when it was 3-2, they were playing better than we were. ... We didn't manage the puck very well in the second and third period really at all, and paid for it dearly."
Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner also scored for the Kings, who responded to a late deficit with the same tenacity that made them champs. Before the building had even quieted from the celebration of Kopitar's goal, Williams adroitly tipped a puck out of mid-air past Brian Elliott for the winner.
After four games of a remarkably even series, these two teams are level heading back to St. Louis for Game 5 on Wednesday night.
"That's playoffs," Williams said. "That's battling all the way to the final buzzer. We needed a big third period, and we responded. We're an experience team. We've been through a lot, and we knew we were facing a daunting task going back to St. Louis down 3-1, and we found it in ourselves. This is a group that's been in pressure situations before, and we know what we have to do to overcome it."
Mike Richards had two assists for Los Angeles, which dropped the first two games in St. Louis and barely survived for a 1-0 victory in Game 3. The Kings erased an early two-goal deficit and a third-period deficit in Game 4 to earn their ninth consecutive home victory since March 23, and Game 6 will be back at Staples Center on Friday.
"The resilience of our team is amazing," said Kopitar, who ended a personal 19-game goal drought. "To keep coming back and coming back like that, it's incredible. To be down 2-0, and then down 3-2 in the third period, it shows what we're capable of overcoming."
T.J. Oshie scored his first two playoff goals for the Blues, who had the champs on the brink of serious trouble before Kopitar and Williams beat Elliott, who stopped 25 shots.
"It's a tight series," said Blues captain David Backes, who scored 1:12 into the game. "We have to bring it every night. When our 20 guys are on the same page, we have a heck of a team. If we stray a little bit off of it, then it's a coin flip. Scoring three on them is fine and dandy, but giving up four goals is not our style."
The Kings hadn't won a playoff game after trailing by two goals since April 18, 2001 (a 4-3 overtime win over Detroit), and they hadn't rallied from a third-period deficit to win a postseason game since the first round last year.
"It's a worst-case scenario when you (lose) a two-goal lead," said Backes, who scored 1:12 into the game. "They had their fans behind them, but we've still got a lot more in the tank, and we're going to find it. It's just a matter of 20 guys staying on the same page."