LOS ANGELES -- The gloves came off between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues in Game 4 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series.
Figuratively, if not literally.
So, too, did the inhibitions.
On Monday at Staples Center, the reigning Stanley Cup champion Kings picked themselves up off the ice, pulling even with the Blues with a 4-3 victory that tested their will and resolve but ultimately tied the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
With two third-period goals, the Kings put the perfect finishing touches on a frantic, fast-paced game that reversed course on what had been a close, tightly fought, low-scoring series.
The game-winner came from Justin Williams, who beat Blues goalie Brian Elliott on a disputed goal 8:30 into the third period. The goal completed two comebacks for the Kings, who trailed 2-0 in the first period and 3-2 in the third.
None of it would have happened without Anze Kopitar, scoreless since March 25, finally breaking through with a critical equalizer at the 7:14 mark of the third period, pulling the Kings back into the game and setting the stage for Williams' winner.
Los Angeles' rally left the Blues kicking themselves for squandering an opportunity to take command of the series.
A crazy, frantic, explosive first period resulted in four goals -- more than has been scored total in each of the first three games.
And while it looked initially as if the Blues had control after scoring the first two, the Kings scratched their way back into a tie by the end of the period.
The Blues' David Backes and T.J. Oshie got the best of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, the second coming off a power play 4:32 into the game.
The reeling Kings dug deep for a response, first getting a goal from Jeff Carter, then one from Dustin Penner.
Oshie beat Quick at the 5:46 mark of the second period to break a 2-2 tie and wrest back control of the game -- until Kopitar decided to finally make his presence felt again, that is.
Quick made 19 saves in the win, while Elliott stopped 25 shots.
NOTES: The scores indicate this has been an extraordinarily close series. And the finite separation between the two teams isn't in the big picture but the small. And that comes down to one-on-one battles that sometimes escape the grasp of fans. "There are a lot of little battles going on that only the players appreciate or understand," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Your top guys can't get frustrated and start playing their individual game. The two teams are very even, gave up the fewest shots in the conference, one and two. Both goaltenders, everybody understands who they are and what they are." ... The Blues made a significant change by inserting rookie Vladimir Tarasenko into the lineup. Tarasenko has been limited this year by a concussion he suffered Feb. 20, in which he missed a month, although he did score two goals against the Kings on March 25. Tarasenko did not play the first three games. "He's been a good player," St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Until the injury, he's been a very good player. He came back a little bit tentative from the injury. But I think when you have a player that contributes like he does, who is as strong on the puck, as determined as he is and as big as he is, he's an asset we can use." Adam Cracknell was taken out of the lineup to make room for Tarasenko.