- Craig Custance
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ST. LOUIS -- The Blues came out absolutely flying. If their extended time off was an issue, there was certainly no indication in the first 10 minutes of Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday.
They were dominant. Andy McDonald was flying around, skating like he was playing at a different speed than everyone else on the ice. As thunderstorms tore through the St. Louis area outside, inside the Scottrade Center, nearly 20,000 St. Louis fans banged ThunderStix, urging their Blues on. It was as hostile an environment as a visiting team will face in these playoffs.
Blues forward David Backes somehow deflected an Alex Pietrangelo shot for the first goal of the game 9:16 into the first, but the damage could have been so much worse. If Kings goalie Jonathan Quick hadn't made a couple of incredible pad saves, the game would have been over before the first period ended.
A year ago, this kind of flurry from an opposing team would have sunk the Kings. Heck, five months ago it probably would have.
But the message from Kings coach Darryl Sutter was the same as it always is at times like this. After the Kings' 3-1 win in Game 1, he shared exactly what his message was.
"Shhhhhh," Sutter said, pushing both of his hands down in the universal motion for stay calm. "Composure, right? You've been past the X's and O's, and been watching it for five days. You're not going to always have a lead. You're not going to always have momentum. You have to keep it settled."
While St. Louis was flying around them, the Kings' players repeated the same talking points that have pushed them this far. Keep working hard. Keep finishing checks, and believe at some point it's going to turn.
It's one thing to say it, but these Kings now truly believe it. Captain Dustin Brown said these seeds of confidence were planted during a stretch of home games in mid-March. The Kings beat the Red Wings. They doubled up the Predators. They crushed the Sharks and found a way to beat the Blues 1-0 in a shootout. A Los Angeles team that should have been good all season started to realize it really was.
For Quick, the team confidence grew even more when the Kings found a way to make the playoffs down the stretch, earning crucial point after crucial point until they finally clinched a spot.
Then came a first-round series win against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks, and the Kings' confidence is now entrenched.
"What it comes down to is aside from hard work, talent, skill and determination, it's just a belief. A belief in yourself," said Dustin Penner, whose fantastic pass to Slava Voynov set up the Kings' first goal of the game. "It's a belief in your teammates and a belief in the system you're playing. Just knowing you're going to get that huge save, that big block and timely goal -- just believing that."
On Saturday night in St. Louis, they believed. And that timely save happened. More than once. In all, Quick finished with 28 saves.
"It's awesome to see Matt Greene go all the way 200 feet to the blue paint to score," Sutter said.
Said Quick: "Good for him. He blocks so many shots on the PK there, it's good to see him get one and put one in the net there."
The Kings' power play blew an opportunity in the third period to put the Blues away when a double minor to T.J. Oshie was followed by a delay of game after Kevin Shattenkirk sent a puck over the glass. The power play is a weakness the Kings must correct if they want to keep the momentum going in this series, because there's no doubt Ken Hitchcock will have his team ready to play a full game that resembles the first 10 minutes of Game 1. The Blues have proved that much this season.
But ultimately, the Kings backed up the faith they had in themselves when the Blues initially looked dominant. This is a core group of players who have been growing together for years in Los Angeles. They've always had talent, but this confidence that grows with each impressive playoff win makes that talent awfully dangerous.
"I think it was always there subconsciously; it was a matter of bringing that out," Penner said. "It's a fine line between fear and belief. You can go either way. You're scared of success; it's tough to explain. There's two ways you can go. You can sit back on your heels and wonder when they're going to get the break or you can make your own."
More and more, the Kings are making their own.