LOS ANGELES -- The goal was a microcosm of how the postseason has unfolded for the Kings.
The St. Louis Blues had scored 4½ minutes into the third period Thursday night to cut the deficit to one in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal.
Pinned in his own end, Jeff Carter made a deft chip pass as the puck skimmed along the wall and toward the blue line. That allowed teammate Mike Richards to maintain his speed with nothing but open ice in his path.
He raced into the offensive zone, paused with the puck for what seemed like a coffee break, then slid a perfect centering pass to defenseman Drew Doughty, who was barreling into the offensive zone. Doughty did the rest, sending the puck rocketing into the pads of St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott, which then trickled out the back side and across the goal line.
Just like that, the Blues were back on their heels.
The Kings didn’t allow St. Louis any more prime scoring opportunities after that, holding on for a 4-2 victory at Staples Center that gave them a commanding 3-0 series lead with Game 4 back on home ice Sunday at noon.
“It was a big goal,” said Doughty, who also had two assists. “They had just scored to make it 3-2 and Richards made an unbelievable play. Not too many forwards can see that. He was almost two zones ahead of me when I first starting skating, and for him to know I was going to be joining and for him to stop up and make that feed, that was a great job by him.”
Richards, as usual, deflected praise to Carter for getting the play started.
“He did a good job chipping the puck on the wall,” Richards said. “The hardest plays as a winger are when the puck is rimming and you have that defense pounding down on you, and he did a good job chipping it by him. I just gave it to Dewey and he did the rest.”
Richards also scored a power-play goal late in the second period to end his team’s 0-for-30 skid with the man advantage and engaged in a first-period fight with Jamie Langenbrunner to give him a rare Gordie Howe hat trick.
That never-back-down attitude has become a blueprint for L.A.’s playoff success.
“It’s one of those things where we play a hard, physical game and it doesn’t matter if it’s myself or Trevor Lewis, we have everyone being physical and bumping,” said team captain Dustin Brown. “When you have 20 guys doing that to you for 60 minutes, it can be a frustrating game. We’ve done it for three games and it’s important now for us to do it a fourth game.”
Brown drew the first three minor penalties on the Blues, all retaliatory after he had laid a legal hit on one of the St. Louis players. Brown never forcefully reacted to the penalties, allowing the Kings to have the man advantage.
“We have a stranglehold on the series,” Brown said. “Now it’s having that killer instinct, and a lot of that is just the physicality and being willing to take a hit, pay the price and not retaliate.”
Justin Williams, who scored the game’s first goal after dodging a check by St. Louis defenseman Kris Russell, dumping the puck off and then getting it back for a one-timer, said the Kings aren’t close to looking ahead to the organization’s second trip to the conference finals.
“We know our position,” he said. “We fought hard and battled hard to get to this position that we’re at, and now we’re one win away from going to the conference championship.”