Friday, April 2, 2010

The ones that got away

As Blues season winds down, leads that were lost
in games will ultimately cost team playoff berth

ST. LOUIS -- There they were, leading another big game on the road and two big points waiting on the table for the Blues.

Andy McDonald had just deflected in a shot early in the second period to give the Blues a 2-0 lead over Nashville. The Blues were playing the perfect road game, which hasn't been a surprise considering they have been among the best away from Scottrade Center all season.

But something that's happened too often this season came to fruition once again: the Blues blew another lead ... a multi-goal lead.

They would surrender three straight and lose 3-2 to the Predators, the same Predators team that came into St. Louis on March 21st and stole another win from the Blues, scoring twice inside the final four minutes of a 3-2 win.

"Another tough one, especially against Nashville," forward Brad Boyes said matter-of-factly. "We knew they weren't going to stop. They got a couple good bounces, but it doesn't really matter. They won, we didn't. We had a chance to win, a chance to keep pressing them and we kind of let it slide."

So what happened? What stopped working?

"Getting in on the forecheck," Boyes said. "It's one thing playing solid in their zone, but I think there were times where we gave the puck up a little too easy (Thursday night). We had a couple chances that we didn't bury.

"But in saying that too, they didn't have a ton. They got a couple good bounces, a couple good breaks. We were fairly solid in that aspect, but it comes down to we didn't get the win. We didn't get what we needed."

Blues coach Davis Payne wasn't around for any of the early-season collapses, but he has been a part of a few games where he can remember that his squad squandered away leads.

And he says all the losses have their own merits.

"Certain games in particular I look at, the Anaheim game here at home (on Jan. 23), the Nashville game here at home (on March 21), those two games in particular, we didn't play a third period like we would have liked to," Payne said. "I think if you look at (Thursday) night's hockey game ... an ebb and flow kind of game, both teams having moments. We had our own at the start of that third period. There were some moments going back and forth, there were probably two scoring chances apiece in the first four minutes, one of theirs does go, and now all of the sudden we've got to find a way to come back in the hockey game.

"Not a lot different than the Chicago game (Tuesday) where ... chance, chance, lead ... now all of the sudden the game looks different. I don't think that we look at (Thursday) night's third period as we would against the Nashville third period or the Anaheim third period. Those are third periods where we were dissatisfied with our play. This time of year, last night's third period, we're dissatisfied because we didn't get our two points, and that's the bottom line."

Payne added, "Each game looks different. I don't think that that's a complete picture. It's not like you're saying you get into the eighth and ninth inning and the bullpen can't get outs. I don't think that this is one of those things. It doesn't boil down that simplistically."

The games Payne was referring to were games against the Ducks, where the Blues lost a 3-0 third-period lead and lose 4-3 in a shootout, and the game against Nashville, in which the Blues led 2-1 and see the Predators score twice in the last four minutes and win 3-2.

There have been others: Edmonton at home, Vancouver at home, Buffalo at home to name a few. They're why the Blues will likely be left out of the Stanley Cup party.

"We had a chance to finish teams, we didn't," Boyes said. "Maybe we sat back a little bit when we should have kept pressing. We had chances in those games -- whether it be a power play or whatever and we didn't bury them. I think those are some of the areas we need to look at and some areas that might cost us.

"It just goes to show you the fine line between winning and losing, that little bit. ... To get on the right side, we've got to find areas to make sure we're coming out finding ways to win and get those points. It's what good teams do. For whatever reason this year, we've struggled in those areas of burying teams and putting them away when we got a chance."

Despite playing winning hockey since coach Davis Payne's arrival, and in particular, playing winning hockey over the last 18 games (12-6-0), the Blues have not been able to make up any ground on the teams that were ahead of them. Playing catch-up was simply too taxing this season.

"We've left ourselves in a position where you have to win so many games, and this stems further than the last 20 games where we've had a really good stretch of games," defenseman Eric Brewer said. "But it's easy to look back and say, 'This game, this game, and this game.' Every team can do that and you can do that until you make yourself mentally ill. But we’ve constantly been on the wrong side of the pile all the time and it's really difficult to make up ground as we've all known, and we're just running out of games now.

"You have to be good for the whole season. You really can't have that month off or that big stretch of games where it doesn't go very well for you. You have to continually get points, you can't give away the points. The slow accumulation or non-accumulation of those single points throughout the year, they make a difference at the end."

The Blues, who entertain Dallas at 7 p.m. today, are down to five games remaining in the regular season. Even if they happen to run the table, it likely won't be enough.

"We're aware of what is and what isn't, so we'll just worry about tomorrow," Brewer said Friday. "It's easier to do that."

* Kariya skates -- Blues forward Paul Kariya, who suffered a lower-body injury Tuesday against Chicago and missed Thursday's game in Nashville, was on the ice Friday for the optional skate.

Kariya, who has 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in his last 17 games, participated in some light drills, then skated on his own before departing the ice.

"I saw him out there," Payne said. "I haven't got a report on exactly how he felt or what he feels what he's capable of next, so it's a day-to-day assessment."

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