All the Kings needed was a change in venue and a change in their lineup to get back into their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the St. Louis Blues. They scored one goal for the third consecutive game, but managed to make it count Saturday night at Staples Center.
Slava Voynov scored the only goal of the game in the opening minutes of the second period and Jonathan Quick made 30 saves to lead the Kings to a 1-0 victory over the Blues in Game 3 of their best-of-7 series. Game 4 is Monday at Staples Center.
After two disappointing losses in which they scored a grand total of two goals, the Kings returned to the cavernous confines of Staples Center for what loomed as a must-win Game 3. Only three teams in NHL history have rebounded to win a best-of-7 series after trailing 3-0.
Darryl Sutter’s answer to the Kings’ scoring woes in the series was to dress seven defensemen instead of the customary six for Game 3. Defenseman Alec Martinez, who last played April 3 against the Phoenix Coyotes rejoined the Kings’ lineup Saturday.
The move by the Kings’ coach invited plenty of press-box speculation that one of the other six defensemen was injured and Martinez was added to the lineup as a precaution. Sutter acknowledged Friday he might be forced to make a change because “we’ve got some guys banged up.”
Conventional wisdom had Sutter scratching Keaton Ellerby in favor of Matt Greene, a swap of a playoff newbie for a battle-scarred veteran. Greene sat out 42 games after having back surgery, and wasn’t as sharp as Sutter hoped in four regular-season tuneups before the playoffs began.
So, Greene sat out again, Ellerby played and Martinez joined the defense corps.
Meanwhile, the Kings’ offensive struggles continued.
What they needed, they got with an extra dash of grit in the early minutes of the second period, when Voynov capped a wild goalmouth scramble with a laser from the right faceoff circle into the top left corner of Brian Elliott’s net for a 1-0 lead at 4:56.
Actually, partial credit goes to referees Stephen Walkom and Greg Kimmerly, who resisted the urge to whistle the play dead with the puck sliding around uncovered and bodies crashing to the ice in the crease in an attempt to keep it alive.
Kyle Clifford and Mike Richards were initially credited with the assists, which were later given to Martinez and Trevor Lewis, underscoring the nature of the pile-up in front of Elliott. It was Voynov’s first career playoff game in his 23rd postseason contest.
It also was the Kings’ first goal while staking at even-strength during the series. They scored one in Game 1 after Quick went to the bench in the final moments of the third period in favor of a sixth attacker. They scored one in Game 2 on a power play.
And that was it until Voynov’s strike, which came against the run of play. The Blues controlled the play for most of the first two periods, but couldn’t beat Quick. The Blues outshot the Kings by 20-19 after 40 minutes, winning the game territorially but losing on the scoreboard.
Quick blamed himself for the Kings’ 2-0 series deficit, saying he should have handled the puck better behind the net on the play that led to Alex Steen’s shorthanded overtime winner in Game 1 and should have snared defenseman Barret Jackman’s perimeter shot in the final moment of Game 2.
Quick’s teammates absolved him of any and all blame, however.
“He’s a first-class teammate and he’ll say those things,” Kings center Jarret Stoll said of Quick the day before Game 3. “But we all know what a great goaltender he is and he’s played really well in this series so far. We’re going to need him. We’re going to need everybody in win this next game.”