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.
In the process, a series dominated by strong wills and two hard-line approaches experienced a game of collective artistry, ambition and explosiveness.
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 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 7:14 of the third period, pulling the Kings back into the game and setting the stage for Williams' winner.
"Yeah, you can't quit right until the last buzzer. After the second (period), we said it might take us 19 1/2 (minutes) to get the equalizer, but fortunately enough we got the two pretty quick and we held the lead," Kopitar said. "Now it's all tied up and best of three going against St. Louis."
A series that produced seven goals in three games produced seven in Game 4 alone.
"It seemed like it was a high-scoring affair, compared to the scores, that's the way it goes," Kopitar said. "We're happy we got the win, but flying out tomorrow and got to get refocused."
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 had 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.
"After our start, we got two quick goals and then we didn't play nearly as good as we needed to," Blues defensemen Jay Bouwmeester said. "Now we have to regroup and go back home. We knew they were going to come hard. They come hard every game. We just didn't do the things to respond. The effort on our part just wasn't good enough."
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 in a span of less than five minutes.
"The turnovers in the neutral zone fed their offense. A couple of guys pinching and leaning in and then give them a 2-on-0 and 3-on-1 when we were up 2-0 in the first," Backes said. "That's not the way to protect the lead. We left Elliott hung out to dry there. He's been awesome for us, and we need to be better for him."
The Kings took advantage.
"There's a lot of resilience in this room," Penner said. "The game has a funny way of making you question it, but we have a lot of resolve. Obviously we draw on experiences from last year. As individuals from different years that we played, just that's what makes us professional athletes and the competitors we are."
Nevertheless, Oshie got the best of 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.
"You can never predict how a game's going to go, you can only predict the work ethic you bring," Penner said. "We had maybe an unfortunate bounce for the first goal and a power-play goal. The game tests you in different ways. We definitely earned this one."
Meanwhile, the Blues must regroup.
"We are going back home. We are in a good position still. You just have to approach it like it's a three-game series now," Bouwmeester said. "We just have to get back to doing the things that made us successful. We have to get back to skating and getting on the forecheck. This time of the year it's real close. You don't have to change a lot, but sometimes it makes a big difference."
NOTES: Quick made 19 saves in the win, while Elliott stopped 25 shots. ... The scores indicate this has been an extraordinarily close series. And the finite separation between the teams isn't in the big picture but the small. "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. He saw 5:51 of ice time Monday, lowest on the team. Adam Cracknell was taken out of the lineup to make room for Tarasenko.