Monday, January 25, 2010

Giving up third period leads a trend that's haunting Blues

Team looking for repeat performance through Western Canada

For a team that is desperately searching for each and every possible point it can get, it would be well-advised for the Blues not to look back.

Why? Because there are too many what-ifs they can dwell on, and in such instances, it's better that the Blues forget what they failed to acquire.

Saturday's 4-3 shootout loss at home to Anaheim was disheartening enough for the Blues, who begin a three-game Western Canadian swing when they face Calgary today at 8:30 p.m., but a disturbing sequence that has occurred all-too-often this season came to light once again.

After relinquishing a lead once again in the final minute of a game when Bobby Ryan capped a three-goal comeback on a goal with 30 seconds left, it marked the fifth time this season the Blues have surrendered a game-tying goal in the final minute. Fortunately, they are 3-0-2 in those games.

But counting four other games in which the Blues have either allowed the game-tying or go-ahead goal in the game's final four minutes, that gives them a mark of 3-4-2 in those games.

Nine of their 51 games played, points were there to be had which translates to 18 in total.

The Blues (22-21-8, 52 points), who are chasing eighth-place Calgary (26-19-6, 58 points) tonight, would love have of those 18 points. It would put them in a tie for sixth place in the Western Conference.

But they are playing catch-up once again, and third-period deficiencies throughout the season have been a big reason why. The Blues have eight losses this season when leading after two periods (15-2-6), which is the worst in the NHL.

"It's just mistakes. It's the distinctive composure that's not there at times in the third and I think it's kind of that here-we-go-again mentality sometimes," goalie Chris Mason said. "You can't have that and win. Teams are too good."

The loss Saturday marked the third time this season the Blues led a game 3-0 and lost. Twice, those games were 3-1 leads after two periods. Saturday, it was 2-0 going into the third, but the Blues got it to 3-0, and the wheels for whatever reason came spinning off.

"It's more mental for us right now," veteran Keith Tkachuk said. "There's no excuses. (Blues coach) Davis (Payne) has a good system here ... pressure hockey. But I could tell in the third (Saturday) we were just sitting back way too much.

"We're giving a lot of late goals lately. It's happened to us quite a few times this year. It can't happen. With the type of people we have on the ice, you've got to get the job done. We really blew that one tonight."

Let's look at the season's culprits, the ones that almost got away and the ones that did:

* Saturday: led 3-0 against Anaheim, allowed tying goal with 30 seconds remaining, lost 4-3 in a shootout

* Wednesday: led at Montreal 3-1 going into third period, allowed tying goal with 33 seconds remaining, won 4-3 in overtime

* Jan. 7: led at Anaheim 2-1 in third period, allowed go-ahead goal with 2:40 to play, lost 4-2

* Dec. 31: led Vancouver 3-0 in second period, 3-1 after two, allowed tying goal with 1:56 remaining, lost 4-3 in overtime

* Dec. 5: led at Los Angeles in third, allowed tying goal with 34 seconds remaining, won 5-4 in a shootout

* Nov. 28: led Detroit 2-0 in second, was leading 3-2 then allowed tying goal with 57 seconds remaining, lost 4-3 in a shootout

* Nov. 25: led at Dallas 3-2 late before allowing tying goal with 26 seconds remaining, won 4-3 in a shootout

* Nov. 12: was tied with Nashville 1-1, allowed go-ahead goal with 3:43 remaining, lost 3-1

* Nov. 8: led at Atlanta 2-0 in third, allowed tying goal with 3:31 remaining, lost 3-2 in a shootout.

As hard as it is, and as much as they'd like to put these demons behind them, the Blues must be asking themselves, "Why does this happen?"

Easy, according to young forward T.J. Oshie.

"Sometimes, we get a little too comfortable with our leads," he said. "We just need to keep going at teams. If we get one, we want two. If we get three, we want five. It's got to be our mentality."

"I don't know how many games we've given away leads in the third period," forward Andy McDonald said. "It's scary how many points we've given up. We'd certainly be in a different position here and probably a lot closer to a playoff spot if we could close out third periods, play strong and play like we've been in that position before."

Much of the early results were under then-coach Andy Murray, but Saturday's demoralizing loss was a reminder that this is a slow process, and one Payne must rectify in a short period of time.

"It's not a 10-step process, it's not a 12-step process," Payne said. "This is a daily thing that's got to get ingrained in these guys. ... These are things that obviously you don't want to have to go through, but we're here. We're in the present and we've got to make sure this is fixed by the time we get to Calgary."

The Blues are 5-4-2 since Payne took over on Jan. 2, and they are only six points in back of a playoff spot, but there are only 31 games remaining on the schedule and teams in the west will be playing each other, so a repeat performance through Western Canada would be wise for them. The Blues were 3-0-0 the last time they made the swing.

"We've taken some steps the last half dozen games," McDonald said. "I think there's been some positive steps in the positive direction, but for whatever reason we seem to revert back to falling apart in the third period.

"It's tough to handle. Guys are beating themselves up a lot. Hopefully, we can get past it. We had a good road trip out west and hopefully we can do that again."

* NOTES -- The Blues recalled defenseman Tyson Strachan from it's AHL affiliate in Peoria because defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (lower-body) was placed in injured reserve. Colaiacovo was injured during Thursday's 3-2 loss in Ottawa. ... Forward David Backes (upper-body) skated on his own Sunday but did not practice. Both he and Colaiacovo made the trip with the team, and Backes could be back in the lineup tonight.

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