ST. LOUIS — Jonathan Quick's stellar goaltending was the reason the Kings made it to overtime in the opener of their first-round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues. He coolly turned away 40 shots while his teammates were outmuscled and outhustled, yielding only a first-period power-play goal to Alex Steen off a rebound.
When the Kings tied the game with 31.6 seconds left in the third period on a goal by Justin Williams after they'd replaced Quick with an extra skater, it seemed Quick's excellence would be duly rewarded.
When they began creating an array of scoring chances in overtime and got a four-minute power play after Kevin Shattenkirk high-sticked Dustin Penner, it was a flashback to the persistence they so often displayed during their Stanley Cup run a year ago.
BOX SCORE: St. Louis 2, Kings 1 (OT)
"One shot, and everybody knows in OT anything can happen," center Anze Kopitar said.
Something strange happened: an apparent innocuous play that allowed the Blues to grab a 2-1 victory Tuesday and put the Kings in the unaccustomed position of trailing in a playoff series.
As the Kings set up their power play, Quick went behind his net to play the puck and move it up to a defenseman. But Steen, who had just gotten onto the ice, darted in to steal it. He backhanded it into Quick's vacated net 13 minutes and 26 seconds into sudden-death play, triggering a roar of joy from fans at Scottrade Center who had gone through an emotional wringer.
"The hockey gods took care of us," Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock said.
Not so for the Kings, who had enjoyed an eight-game winning streak against the Blues that included a sweep of the teams' second-round playoff series last spring. The Kings won the first three games in all four rounds of last year's playoffs, but history won't repeat itself, in that regard at least.
"You might call it a fluky goal but they outplayed us for the whole game," winger Dustin Brown said. "So when you play the game that they did, you get the breaks that they get."
Asked what had happened on the overtime goal, Quick was succinct. "Exactly what it looked like. I tried to make a pass. He blocked it and scored," Quick said.
"I don't have an option to the left, and you're trying to force him to the left, trying to give my D-man a little more time with the puck …. You try to make him make a decision. And he got the stick on it."
Coach Darryl Sutter defended Quick, saying he wants the goalie to make that play to advance the puck on the power play.
"I thought he played a great game," Sutter said. "It's kind of ironic the two best players on the ice were in on the goal. And even there he tries to make a play. I think Steen's stick tapped it."
With that, the Blues proved something they had hoped but didn't know for sure: they can beat the Kings when it matters.
"We played a great hockey game. Waking up tomorrow would have been a challenge if we didn't win the game," Hitchcock said. "For us, hopefully, we're going to gain more confidence that we can compete with these guys. Not just compete, but actually win."
Before the series resumes Thursday in St. Louis, the Kings must find ways to counter the Blues' speed and an energetic forecheck that befuddled them in the early going. Sutter said "a handful of guys" weren't ready for it, and that can't happen again.
While they're at it, they must figure out how to generate more offense and determine why, after thriving on the road last spring, they've lost seven straight away games, including the last six of the regular season. They had only 19 shots on Brian Elliott in regulation, though they had a 10-6 margin in overtime.
That's a lot to ponder, and there's not much time to find the answers.
"I couldn't say that we deserved to win the game, but we were certainly starting to turn the tide our way," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "It was a mistake. It happens. Sometimes when it's the goalie it sticks out that much more. But everybody makes mistakes. It's worth one notch on the tally, and we've got to try and get one back Thursday."