After the St. Louis Blues took a 4-1 lead in the second period, the Los Angeles Kings felt their former playoff opponents letting up slightly, sitting back on defense and protecting their advantage.
That’s all the opening Los Angeles needed to launch a stunning comeback.
Jeff Carter scored the tiebreaking goal with 13:51 to play, and the defending Stanley Cup champions roared back from a three-goal deficit for their seventh win in eight games, 6-4 Tuesday night.
Jake Muzzin tied it early in the third period with his second goal for the Kings, who have won six straight home games while surging up the Western Conference standings after a slow start to the season. Their highest-scoring performance of the season was a testament to Los Angeles’ playoff-tested toughness – and perhaps an indictment of struggling St. Louis’ tenacity.
”They started to back off,” said Anze Kopitar, who added a goal with 5:09 to play. ”It’s only natural with a three-goal lead, but we started to sense that if we could get one, then anything is possible.”
After Slava Voynov scored late in the second period, Mike Richards and Muzzin scored 59 seconds apart in the third to even it for the Kings, who have won nine of 11 overall.
”It’s probably natural for teams to try and protect (a big lead),” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. ”We try to have the other mindset and always play like we’re down one.”
Carter followed up his natural hat trick in Monday’s home win over Nashville with his 15th goal of an outstanding season, including 11 goals in the last 11 games. Muzzin had three points in the rookie’s highest-scoring performance, while Justin Williams matched his career high with three assists in the defending champs’ highest-scoring performance of the season.
”We’ve got a confident, calm group here with great leaders on the team,” said Muzzin, who spent last season in the AHL while the Kings won a title. ”We just kept building, getting another one and another one. It wasn’t a great situation, but you have to stay with it. We were calm.”
Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron and Chris Stewart each had a goal and an assist for the Blues, who have lost five of seven. Jaroslav Halak made 16 saves before Brian Elliott replaced him when Carter scored the Kings’ fourth consecutive goal in less than 13 minutes.
”We’re in a little bit of turmoil,” captain David Backes said. ”I thought we had accomplished something after 40 minutes, but it takes 60 minutes in this league, and we didn’t come for the last 20.”
Vladimir Sobotka also scored in the Blues’ first appearance at Staples Center since the eighth-seeded Kings swept them out of the second round of last season’s playoffs. St. Louis dropped to 0-2-0 on its five-game trip against the entire Pacific Division.
”We took our foot off the gas, and you can’t do that against good teams,” Backes said. ”They took it to us. We made too many mistakes, and they put it in the back of the net. We got off our game plan and tried to be too cute in our end when they were putting pressure on us … and the result was four unanswered goals in the third and another bad feeling in this locker room.”
Jonathan Bernier made back-to-back starts for just the second time this season, but the Kings’ backup goalie gave up three goals on eight shots in just over 21 minutes before getting pulled in favor of Jonathan Quick, who stopped five shots. Drew Doughty had two assists for the Kings, who haven’t lost at home since Jan. 31.
Perron chased Bernier just 1:14 into the second period when he slipped unmarked into the slot and scored his eighth goal of the season. Stewart beat Quick at an awkward angle later in the period, but Voynov trimmed the Blues’ lead to 4-2 with his second goal in 13 games.
The Kings then evened it with stunning swiftness. Richards scored his sixth goal of the season on his own rebound in the slot on a setup by Dustin Penner, and Muzzin quickly tied it in the first multigoal effort of his 29-game NHL career.
Carter chased Halak with a slap shot, scoring his ninth goal in eight games.
”Things started slipping, and when they tied it up, we started panicking,” St. Louis forward Ryan Reaves said. ”That seems to be what we’ve been doing a lot lately – hitting the panic button when things are going bad. We’ve got to keep sticking to our game plan and just keep grinding away.”
NOTES: Pietrangelo’s goal ended an 11-game goal drought. … F Jason Arnott has skated for St. Louis in a few recent workouts, and the Blues are considering re-signing the 38-year-old veteran to bolster their flagging depth. … The first period featured three fights and 40 penalty minutes, including Kyle Clifford’s one-punch knockdown of Roman Polak with a nasty uppercut. … Williams had three assists for the third time in his career – and the second time this season.