LOS ANGELES – If the Los Angeles Kings weren't already being seen as a potential Stanley Cup Playoffs monster, they practically grew another head Thursday night.
The Kings got a Gordie Howe hat trick from Mike Richards, goals by rookie Dwight King and Drew Doughty and took advantage of a rare off-night by St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott on the way to a 4-2 victory in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals at Staples Center. The victory gives the eighth-seeded Kings a 3-0 lead in the series. L.A. can advance to the conference finals for only the second time in franchise history if it completes the sweep at home in front of another revved-up crowd on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN, RDS).
The only other time the Kings won more than one series in a single playoff year was 1993, when they made their only trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
The all-around contributions were indicative of a team that will play deep into spring. Seven players had points. Jonathan Quick improved to 7-1 in the playoffs. The Kings had 46 hits to 39 by St. Louis, and captain Dustin Brown said that's what makes them tick.
"It's one of those things where we play a hard, physical game," Brown said. "We have everyone being physical, bumping. When you have 20 guys doing that to you for 60 minutes, it can be a frustrating game. We've done it for three games. Now it's important to do it for a fourth game. We have a stranglehold on this series. Now it's having that killer instinct."
Los Angeles has faced little adversity this postseason. The Kings have not trailed against St. Louis since the first 10 minutes of Game 1. They came out disciplined, scored twice in the second period and played what coach Darryl Sutter called "as good of a third period we've played in three months."
L.A. also has the look of a team whose confidence has snowballed for some time, and the Kings openly recognize that something has been building here.
"Winning obviously does that for you, especially in the playoffs, and the way we've done it – we've kept with our system, we've played well in a lot of situations that we've been put in," Richards said.
"It's enabled us to go out there and play the same system, the same game we've played all year. It gives us confidence and helps us have success, too."
St. Louis, which did not lose three straight games in regulation during the 82-game regular season, is in dire straits. The Blues were supposed to be energized by the return of defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who missed Game 2 with an injury. But the offense generated only two goals – both by Chris Stewart – and couldn't make up for a bad night by Elliott, who allowed two poor goals in the second period.
Stewart recorded his second career playoff two-goal game but the Blues watched their power play sink to 0 for 14 on the series. Pietrangelo was on the ice for two of L.A.'s goals and took a big hip check from Brown in the first period.
"We're not where we want to be right now," Elliott said. "I think we can say down to a man that we need to play better. It starts with me between the pipes and works itself out. We're not where we want to be, but we're not going anywhere. We're fighting and we want to take it back to St. Louis."
Richards fought Jamie Langenbrunner in the first period, scored in the second and assisted on Drew Doughty's door-slamming goal in the third on a shot that trickled through Elliott.
Elliott allowed four or more goals for the second straight game. The Blues do not have the services of Jaroslav Halak, out for the series with an injury. St. Louis' two-headed goalie combination made the Blues the NHL's stingiest defense during the regular season and teamed for 15 shutouts.
Asked if Doughty's goal was the most frustrating, Elliott said, "I'm not really going to talk about what's frustrating or what's not. Sometimes those hit you and stay out. Sometimes they go through you. Right now it's just … that one snuck through."
Richards' goal was a carbon copy of his score against Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks in Game 1 of the quarterfinals. He took the puck near the end line on the right side and released a quick shot that snuck through Elliott's pads for a 3-1 lead.
"I got a little lucky there," Richards said. "It squeaked through and I don't even think it hit the back of the net but it's something that feels great right now."
L.A. ended an 0 for 30 slump on the power play with the goal, which confirmed that this was not Elliott's night. Earlier in the second he was beaten stick side by Dwight King's wrist shot, although King was able to come in alone after the Blues were caught napping on a long bank pass by Matt Greene to King.
King's first career playoff goal came 40 seconds after St. Louis tied the game 1-1 on Stewart's first goal and effectively crushed any energy the Blues had generated.
"That killed us," Matt D'Agostini said. "Beyond the penalty killers, it's killed a lot of momentum in this series. I think it's a big part of the reason why we're down. If we right that and play them 5-on-5, we'll tend to take the play from them.
"With our team, there's no reason we should be down three games right now. We're the type of team that's very capable of coming in this series. There's a lot of promise still in this room and we have a lot of belief in our guys and what we can do. Don't count us out yet."
L.A. practically skated downhill against St. Louis for a good portion of the first period and got rewarded with Justin Williams' second goal in as many games. Williams drove past Vladimir Sobotka on the right side and moved into position for a shot from the right slot that went in off a sprawled Elliott's right leg at 13:43.
It was a dreadful start for St. Louis, which was coming off arguably its worst period all season in the opening 20 minutes of Game 2, when the Kings scored four times.
St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock sounded confident at the morning skate that this would be its best game but his team bookended the opening period with retaliatory penalties, by Alex Steen and D'Agostini, and registered only four shots on goal.
"In two of the three games it's been a major problem," Hitchcock said of the penalties. "Veteran players taking reactionary penalties … We can't beat this team when we're sitting in the penalty box."
Greene, who entered the playoffs with two points in 30 career playoff games, has a point in every game of this series.