ST. LOUIS - Just like the first round, the St. Louis Blues dropped the series opener at home.
Unlike the first round, they have serious injury issues heading into Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings.
Top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was not at practice on Sunday, the morning after getting checked face-first into the boards by Dwight King in St. Louis’ 3-1 loss. Though coach Ken Hitchcock did not rule out Pietrangelo for Monday night, he’s decided on Ian Cole as a potential replacement.
Cole, a first-round pick in 2007, played 26 games in the regular season and would make his playoff debut.
Hitchcock said Pietrangelo is day to day with an upper body injury. He wasn’t interested Sunday in the debate about whether King should have received a five-minute major instead of a two-minute boarding minor, given Pietrangelo’s face was bleeding, and perhaps should be suspended.
“Why don’t we leave that for the league?” Hitchcock said. “I’m more worried about Petro and our group. Everybody’s made their comments, we’ve all seen the written stuff.
“Let’s just let them comment. Let’s move on to Game 2.”
Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft, is one of the NHL’s top two-way threats and led the league in shifts per game while ranking among the leaders while logging nearly 25 minutes per game. Hitchcock said he might dress a seventh defenseman, Kent Huskins, if Pietrangelo can’t go.
But the coach added, “Just don’t be writing him off yet.”
Pietrangelo appeared to be a bit off-balance prior to the hit, perhaps trying to turn, and reached out with his arms before crashing into the boards. The cut to his face could have come from contact with King’s helmet.
“It wasn’t a hit that you want to see someone take,” defense partner Carlo Colaiacovo said. “It looked pretty vicious, but that’s all I’ll comment on that.”
King said both players were going for the puck and he tried to angle his body inside Pietrangelo’s, and when he leaned Pietrangelo fell.
“I mean, I didn’t really try to put a lot of force into it, obviously,” King said. “Obviously, you never like to see a guy go out that way.”
Kings coach Darryl Sutter didn’t think the NHL should or would review the hit, while referencing King’s solid reputation.
“It’s as much the player himself,” Sutter said. “I watched it, I care about that stuff. It’s not even a hit, it’s not a player that does that.”
Sutter was one of six brothers, all of them rough and tumble, who played in the NHL. So he warned those who want the league issuing suspensions on a routine basis.
“It’s a tough game, that’s a fact,” Sutter said. “You guys want to take hitting right out and see how exciting it is? Everybody talks about the first round, it happened to us to, not on a play that was accidental. It was a flagrant foul and we didn’t complain but everybody loves watching it.”
The Kings’ Kyle Clifford hasn’t played since Game 1 of the first round after taking an elbow to the head from Vancouver’s Byron Bitz, who was suspended for two games.
Mike Greene scored the go-ahead short-handed goal, the first of his career in the playoffs, with just over a minute to go in the second period while King was in the penalty box. Greene’s easy tap-in came after Dustin Brown upended goalie Brian Elliott with his skate after he was stopped on a breakaway.
That was the key for the eighth-seeded Kings’ fourth win in a row on the road in these playoffs. They seemed right at home in Vancouver while taking out the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks in five games in the first round, and now they have a chance to take command against the second-seeded Blues.
“It’s a great start, you couldn’t ask for a better one,” forward Dustin Penner said. “After a win you want to break it down to areas where you could have made it easier on yourself getting that win and that’s what we’ll do.
The Blues took four straight from the Sharks in the first round after dropping the opener in double overtime at home, where they set a franchise record with 30 wins and lost just six times in regulation.
In Game 1 of the semifinals they faded after a strong first period, and hurt their comeback efforts with six straight penalty minutes in the third period. Hitchcock said the Kings forced them outside and the Blues didn’t put up enough of a fight.
“We were much the better team for 32 minutes and then we were the ones that cracked,” Hitchcock said. “We took the bad penalties, we had lazy sticks at times, we started turning the puck over at the blue line trying to make the extra play.”
Blues players promised a better effort in Game 2.
“Hopefully, it will be a little bit of a wakeup call,” Elliott said. “You can’t take a shift off, you can’t take a couple minutes off here and there.
“That’s pretty much the lesson, I think.”