LOS ANGELES – Anze Kopitar skated down Dustin Brown and just plain tackled him, dropping the Los Angeles Kings captain to the ice as a sellout crowd expelled 19 years of frustration.
Brown’s goal into the empty St. Louis net had just secured a spot in the Western Conference finals for the eighth-seeded Kings, who steamrolled their first two playoff opponents the same way Kopitar flattened his longtime teammate.
Eternal also-rans since joining the NHL in 1967, the Kings are going deep in this postseason – and the best of the West have not slowed them down yet.
Brown scored two goals, Jonathan Quick made 23 saves, and Los Angeles finished an improbable four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues with a 3-1 victory Sunday, reaching the conference finals for just the second time in club history.
Rookie Jordan Nolan scored an early goal for the Kings, the first No. 8 seed in NHL history to eliminate their conference’s top two seeds in the same postseason. The Kings only clinched a playoff berth right before their 81st game, but they’ve been unstoppable ever since.
“It’s a special group, and we knew that all along this season,” said Kopitar, the Slovenian star who assisted on both of Brown’s goals. “Maybe we didn’t break out when we would have liked to, but I think we’ve peaked at the right time, and that’s the most important thing.”
Having eliminated top-seeded Vancouver and No. 2 St. Louis with eight wins in nine games, the Kings await the winner of the Phoenix-Nashville series. The Coyotes lead 3-1 and can clinch the series tonight at home.
Los Angeles won Sunday despite its weakest effort of the postseason, clinging to a 2-1 first-period lead while St. Louis dominated most of the final two periods. Quick made several big saves before Brown scored his sixth goal of a stellar postseason with 25.8 seconds left.
“You heard the rink today, how loud it was,” said Quick, who has a .949 save percentage in the postseason. “(The sweep) means a lot more to (the fans) than it does to us. It’s a great deal, a big push, by us to win four in a row against a team like that. They were great all series long … but you heard the fans, how loud they were the last two minutes there. It gives you goose bumps.”
The Kings made their only previous trip to the conference finals in 1993, when Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille led Los Angeles past Toronto and into their only Stanley Cup Finals, a five-game loss to Montreal. The Kings won only one playoff series in the ensuing 17 seasons before routing the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks in five first-round games last month.