ST. LOUIS — A pair of goals just over two minutes apart early in the third period Thursday --one of them a short-handed tally off a misplay --proved to be a highly effective punch to the gut of the St. Louis Blues.
As if that blitzkrieg wasn't bad enough, the specter of Jonathan Quick in goal should have been another danger sign as the Kings hammered out a 4-1 victory.
"This had nothing to do with the short-handed goal," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team had not allowed more than two goals in its previous eight games. "Their best players came to play big. Their best players were the best players on the ice.
"This was a really good challenge for us, we needed to step up. Nothing against some of the other teams we've beat, but this was a significant opponent and I wanted to see us step up to another level --and we didn't."
Quick missed the Blues' 5-0 win over L.A. two weeks ago while recovering from a groin strain. But the Team USA goaltender was extremely sharp again Thursday and turned away 28 of 29 shots as the Blues (32-9-5) fell to 18-4-2 at home.
The Kings are 4-1-1 since Quick's return. The Blues dropped to 4-16 in the last 20 head-to-head matchups against the Kings, counting the playoffs.
"(Quick) was good, it seems like he's always good," said Blues winger T.J. Oshie, who beat Quick on a penalty shot in the second period. "He's hard to beat. We need to get more traffic in front of him and put in a couple of those second-chances that he did a good job of limiting."
A goal credited to Trevor Lewis that went in off the skate of Blues winger Jaden Schwartz put the Kings on top 2-1 just four seconds after the Blues killed off a Los Angeles power play to start the third period.
After that, a Blues power play quickly degenerated when Lewis grabbed a misplayed puck in the corner by Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak and beat everyone back to the net for a short-handed goal just over two minutes later.
Halak -- who couldn't play the puck any more once it entered the restricted area in the corner behind the goal line and outside the trapezoid behind the net without risking a penalty -- raced back and tried to dive unsuccessfully.
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo couldn't get his stick on the shot either.
"I tried to get it in the corner and unfortunately for me the puck stayed on the boards," said Halak, making his third start in four games. "I just couldn't pick it off the boards and ... I didn't want to play the puck and get two minutes, but I guess I should have done it.
"I made a mistake in the worst possible time when the game was on the line for us being down 2-1. I'll take the blame for this one. It's unacceptable to make a mistake like that, especially in the third period."
Halak considered taking a penalty on the play.
"I was thinking about that, but one of our 'D' (defensemen) was already back trying to protect the net," Halak said. "It's an unfortunate bounce for us and I'll take the full blame for this game. We lost the two points because of me."
With 2:24 remaining, Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin appeared to catch Blues winger Vladimir Sobotka in the head or neck with an elbow.
Muzzin picked up two minutes for roughing, but the officials also stuck Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko with a two-minute roughing call for retaliating as the sellout crowd of 19,374 howled its disapproval.
The Kings got an empty-net goal by Jeff Carter with 56 seconds remaining.
With the Blues trailing 1-0 early in the second period, Oshie skated off on a partial breakaway before being hauled down from behind by Muzzin and awarded a penalty shot 5 minutes, 55 seconds into the second period.
Oshie skated in with a slow pace, then blistered a shot through Quick's pads to tie the game 1-1.
It was the fourth straight successful penalty shot by the Blues dating back to the 2011-12 season. Alexander Steen had the other penalty shot goal this season.
It was Oshie's 11th goal this season and his seventh in the last nine games.
Blues defenseman Barret Jackman and Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr dropped the gloves just 1:20 into the game.
That set the tone on a night that included 62 hits, 33 credited to the Blues led by six from Brenden Morrow.
The Kings took a 1-0 lead on a long shot by Muzzin through traffic that eluded Halak, who appeared to be screened on the play.