By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Whatever it is that the Blues don't seem to understand about playing a full 60-minute game has cost this group dearly in a season of near-misses.
And because of a plethora of near-misses, the Blues are where they are in the Western Conference standings right now: on the outside looking in.
Playing with a purpose in the game's first 20 minutes, the Blues gained a decided edge on the Chicago Blackhawks, one of those teams they are chasing in the west. But a lousy middle 20 minutes once again was the deciding factor, which why the Blues' fan base feels so discombobulated on a number of nights.
The Blackhawks erased a two-goal deficit with a four-goal outburst and they were able to hold off the Blues' third period rally in a 5-3 victory Monday afternoon at Scottrade Center.
The Blues (27-22-9) could have really asserted themselves and thrown their hat into this frantic playoff race, when it looked very bleak after back-to-back losses to Minnesota recently. But as has been the case on a number of occasions, they wilted under the heated battle and still trail the last playoff spot by five points.
And this time, they failed in front of goalie Ben Bishop, who earned the start based on his 20-save effort Saturday.
That lost battle turned out to be a 10-plus minute stretch of the second period when the Blues' 2-0 lead (Andy McDonald and Brad Boyes gave them a first-period lead) turned into a 4-2 Chicago lead based off turnovers, missed assignments and poor decisions in the neutral zone.
"We stopped skating and they started pushing forward," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Usually that's a bad combo. We're a team that's got to skate to create opportunities and we weren't really doing that in those five, six minutes. We've got to play a full 60 minutes against that team."
Blues coach Davis Payne summed it up best.
"I don't know if it was as much as we were flat, they made the decision to make a charge to get back in that hockey game," Payne said. "I thought we played a solid first. They're a good hockey club, we got the jump on them. They got the jump on us in the second period, and I think it all started with puck possession at the red line. We decide to make a play that doesn't get a puck in deep, all of the sudden you're facing a team that's skating downhill."
The Blues buzzed the entire first period, got two quick goals in a 1-minute, 45-second span and had chances to go up by three or even four.
They left the crack open ever so slightly, and the Blackhawks (31-23-6) pounced, with Viktor Stalberg and Dave Bolland scoring early in the second exactly one-minute apart. Patrick Kane gave the Hawks the lead for good and Jonathan Toews' power play goal was the end of the afternoon for Bishop, who allowed four goals on 18 shots but really none were his fault.
Ty Conklin, who was replaced by Bishop Saturday, came on and stopped all seven shots he faced.
"I felt good going into the game, felt good in the first," Bishop said. "I felt good in the second, too. Just a couple of breakdowns there. They're a highly-skilled team, so they capitalized on their chances. ... I've got to make one big save there to keep the team in the game."
One could make a case of the Blues using a timeout after the two quick goals that tied the game, and Payne even said that he considered pulling Bishop after the Kane goal.
"Yeah, I considered the timeout even prior to that, after the first one based on how we weren't playing, but the right things were being said on the bench," Payne said, who left his timeout in his pocket the rest of the way. "It wasn't any situation where you want to identify any sort of panic in our game. There's a time for it, and there's a time not. I decided not to use it.
"(Pulling Bishop after the third goal) just from the standpoint of what the team wasn't doing, not based on what Ben wasn't doing. He didn't have a look. That puck came through two people. You're not going to put an onus on a goaltender when the team's playing like that."
The Blues, who now trail the Hawks by five points in the standings, thought they had pulled within one when Pietrangelo's shot from the right circle got through a crowded crease and past Corey Crawford, but referee Tim Peel waved the goal off, claiming B.J. Crombeen created goalie interference by pushing Chicago's Nick Leddy into Crawford.
"I didn't see what happened," Pietrangelo said. "I just know they said our guy ran into the goalie. ... That's a tough one, especially at that time of the game, but we answered again."
Crombeen said, "I thought I just drove their d-man back. And if he makes contact with their goalie, that's not my fault. But it was the call that went against us and we've got to be able to rebound and make sure we're getting back in that game."
The Blues did get that goal back, as Pietrangelo picked up his seventh of the season a short time after when his blast from the top of the blue line got through Crawford with 11:12 to play in the game.
The Blues, who once again found their game in the third period, had countless opportunities to get the equalizer, including Patrik Berglund, who redirected David Backes' centering feed wide from in front of the crease with 42 seconds remaining.
"We had a game plan to go in there, get a good start and play a full 60," said forward T.J. Oshie. "Obviously in the second period, we took our foot off the gas a little and they just took advantage of it. It's a tough team to catch when you're behind by two goals. It's just an unacceptable second period.
"It's always tough playing from behind, especially against Chicago. They're a tough team to catch. They know how to put pucks by you and keep the puck in your zone. You can't score goals 200 feet away."
Marian Hossa's empty-netter with 0.4 seconds remaining sewed up two huge points for Chicago, and the Blues saw them get away.
"They just turned it up," Payne said of the Blackhawks. "A good hockey team turned it up, and we didn't recognize that soon enough."
* NOTES -- Defenseman Tyson Strachan was reassigned to Peoria on Monday morning. ... Pietrangelo now has eight points (seven assists) in the last four games. ... McDonald has 11 points (six goals) in nine games since returning from a concussion. ... Oshie has seven points in three games after two assists today. ... Berglund picked up two assists and has 17 points in 16 games, including a six-game point streak. ... The Blues' top line of Backes, McDonald and Chris Stewart was a combined minus-9 in the game. Stewart, who scored two goals in his Blues debut Saturday, fired wide of an open net from a sharp angle with roughly 30 seconds left in the second period that would have cut the Hawks' lead to one.