ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings began their Western Conference semifinal series under ominous circumstances. There was a minor earthquake in Los Angeles on Saturday morning, and a dangerous and damaging late-afternoon storm gusted through downtown St. Louis, blasting the city.Tornado sirens went off, and nervous fans called loved ones at home to check on their safety and get reports on the threatening weather. The horrifying, menacing wind caused injuries and at least one death by slamming into a tent outside Kilroy's, a sports bar near Busch Stadium.
Earthquakes, tornado warnings, hail, squalls, driving rain and destruction. It was an atrocious way to begin this series pitting the Blues against the LA Kings. With all of the turmoil swirling near Scottrade Center, the hockey game just didn't seem as important.
The competition is obviously and understandably vital to two hungry and fast-rising contenders, so the game went on. And a sellout crowd put the worries aside to watch the first act of what should be a dramatic series.
The visitors from LA immediately made it known: their easy first-round elimination of No. 1 seed Vancouver was no fluke. The Kings are an excellent team right now, buzzing with high-voltage energy and purpose.
Unwavering after the Blues took an early 1-0 lead, the Kings quickly asserted themselves to seize a 3-1 victory that turned down the noise at Scottrade.
The Blues lost their edge and aggressiveness after a fast start. They were flat over the final two periods.
"We kind of took a rest, and they stayed going," Blues captain David Backes said. "The result is that we're digging out of another hole."
The Blues have been in this ditch before, losing Game 1 of the San Jose series at home before sweeping the next four and winning in five games. But the Kings can match the Blues' youthful vigor and rigid defense.
Los Angeles also employs the hottest goalie in North America, Jonathan Quick. Johnny B. Goode has been so terrific, the Kings might as well board up the front of the goal.
This second-round series will be an enormous challenge for the Blues. After losing a frustrating and often infuriating Game 1, the Blues have even more work to do. All they can do is regroup for Game 2 on Monday night at Scottrade.
"When you play Los Angeles, there's a price to pay to win," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "There's a high price. If we expect to win the next game, we're going to have to pay a bigger price than the one we paid."
The most disturbing aspect to this loss was an apparent head injury to Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the young hockey prince of this city. His all-purpose talent is the electric current that sparks the Blues at even strength, on the power play, and on the penalty kill. If the Blues have to overcome this deficit to overcome LA without No. 27, they're in jeopardy.
The way Pietrangelo went down was disgraceful. In a blatantly dirty and reckless hit, Pietrangelo was drilled in the back, from behind, by the Kings' Dwight King. The gutless cheap shot drove the defenseless Pietrangelo, face first, into the end boards.
A bleeding Pietrangelo briefly participated in the ensuing power play, but soon disappeared into the runway and into the Blues' locker room late in the second period. He didn't return, and his status for Game 2 is uncertain.
The penalty on King? If you assumed he received a major penalty, a four-minute penalty, or a game misconduct, then you haven't followed the hideously mismanaged NHL. This league is so devoid of leadership, it's surprising we don't see more players getting maimed on the ice.
King received two minutes for boarding.
That's all, folks.
"I thought it was a two-minute penalty," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.
Of course he did.
Referees Stephon Walkom and Eric Furlatt were negligent on the job. So much for the NHL's meaningless gunk about protecting players.
Kay Whitmore, an on-site NHL supervisor, said the refs didn't think King drove Pietrangelo into the boards. He also said the refs didn't see the blood on Pietrangelo's face.
Goodness. I don't know whether these pathetic people should be forced to undergo an eye examination or ordered to take a polygraph test.
King's irresponsible hit should result in an automatic suspension. This will be the latest credibility check for Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's hopelessly overwhelmed director of player safety.
Shanahan's job title may be the biggest oxymoron in pro sports, so the Blues shouldn't count on additional punishment. The harsh truth: King performed an extremely valuable service for his team by taking Pietrangelo out. And in a league that's woefully short on integrity, King will likely get away it.
"He's probably our best player," Backes said of Pietrangelo. "And to see him go out, and them get a two-minute penalty -- that's a pretty good trade when their third line gets a two-minute penalty and our best player is out for the rest of the game. It's unfortunate."
L.A. made the wound larger by scoring a shorthanded goal for a 2-1 lead with 63 seconds remaining in the second period. The Blues couldn't solve Quick in the third period. The Kings added a late empty-netter to send the fans to the parking garages.
Quick stopped 28 of the Blues' 29 shots, making several stupendous saves. The Blues had multiple chances to expand on the 1-0 lead delivered on a Backes deflection of Pietrangelo's shot from the right point, but Quick erected a one-man blockade.
The anger over incompetent officiating and the hit job on Pietrangelo aside, the Blues have themselves to blame for the Game 1 defeat. On the rare occasions that Quick was down or slightly out of position, the Blues misfired and couldn't finish chances.
A dreadful turnover by Blues defenseman Barret Jackman set up the Kings' first goal. There's no excuse for allowing a shorthanded goal. The Blues' power play was sloppy, and they took undisciplined penalties in the third period.
In a series where the goals will be as valuable as gold bullion, the Blues can't afford to make mistakes.
They can't afford to lose Alex Pietrangelo, either.
No one said this task would be easy, but this was an awfully tough start to the series.