Saturday, May 11, 2013

Blues' season ends with 2-1 loss to Kings

Lack of scoring main culprit to season's
end; Penner scores winner on fluky play

LOS ANGELES -- It started so well. But to use a phrase the hockey folks like to say, 'At the end of the day,' it wasn't good enough for the Blues once again.

Winning two games against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings had the Blues believing they were ready to take the next step after last season's sweep at the hands of the Kings.

Little did they know the recurring nightmare would occur again, but this time the Kings won four in a row again after spotting the Blues the first two games.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' David Backes (right) battles the Kings' Slava Voynov for a
loose puck Friday night at Staples Center.
And the way it ended for the Blues almost makes one wonder if they're really the Chicago Cubs of hockey.

Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Kings at Staples Center eliminated the Blues in six games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, and the way the Blues lost once again was showcased what this team desperately needs to get to the next level: lack of goal-scoring.

The Blues finished with 10 goals in the series and only reached three goals in a game once -- Game 4, they lost 4-3 -- and it was the main culprit once again in a frustrating night of near misses and what ifs.

The Blues got their goal from their fourth line center (Chris Porter) and nothing else from the guys expected to score. And to top off the absolute worst luck, when the game should have been 1-1 heading into the third period, the Kings' Dustin Penner was able to cross the blue line, wire a shot that deflected off the skate of defenseman Roman Polak and over Brian Elliott high into the net with 0.2 seconds left in the period that turned out to be the game-winning goal.

Game. Set. Match. Season over. Just like that.

"I think that's probably the story of the series. I would say for us missed opportunities," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We had a lot of people play very hard ... didn't get timely goals. That's what playoffs is. Goaltending's a big part of it. I thought the best player in the series was their goalie (Jonathan Quick). In the end, he made the big saves when we had the five or six close-in chances today. He made the big saves."

Make it 8-for-8 (in a bad manner) for the Blues in elimination games. They haven't won one since downing San Jose in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, winning Game 6 by a 6-2 score. They would lose the series in seven games. The Blues are now 3-16 in franchise history when trailing a series 3-2. They are also now 0-7-1 in their last eight visits to Staples Center and lost for the first time in franchise history (10-1) when winning the first two games of a playoff series.

It was a long plane ride home with plenty of time to wonder what might have been.

"We hit a few posts, a couple that were sitting right there in the crease ... it's getting to be a broken record, but we still didn't get the job done," captain David Backes said. "It's about winning four games to win a series. Up 2-0 and to lose four straight is pretty sour right now."

So close once again, yet so far away.

"Close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades is what they say," Backes said. "All the little things you think about we could do better to get that result the other way ... everything right now is pretty, I don't know if it's frustrating or just a sour taste in your mouth right now."

The Kings got goals from Penner and Drew Doughty in the first period and needed only 16 shots to do it, as the Blues once again outshot the Kings 22-16. But it was the Kings who came out better once again.

"I think we deserved better that this," said center Patrik Berglund, who was denied on a breakaway attempt in the third period. "I think we battled really hard, played really hard. We had all the chances in the world to score more goals than they did.

At this time, it really stings because I think we were right there. We expected to get past this round."

The Kings took advantage of ineffectiveness by the Blues when Doughty used Polak, who for whatever reason was collapsing back on a 2-on-2 play, as a screen to snap a shot high near side past Elliott 12:37 into the first period for a 1-0 Kings lead.

Colin Fraser, who was covered well by Kevin Shattenkirk, dropped the pass to Doughty, who was handled by Polak but instead of stepping up and challenging Doughty 1-on-1, Polak backed up and Doughty was able to use it to his advantage.

"He made a great move," Polak said of Doughty. "He kind of stopped me there on the move. He made it look like he was going to shoot a slapper. He waited and shot it strong side. It was a pretty good shot. It was a good play."

Elliott said he never saw the shot.

"He brought it kind of into the skates and then fired it," Elliott said of Doughty. "I didn't really get a clean look at it. We've got to have those, too."

The Blues were humming for most of the game. They forced the Kings into 21 giveaways in the game but just couldn't put the puck away.

They got the equalizer when Porter deflected Polak's shot from the point 4:39 into the second period after Backes was able to get the puck back to Polak for the slap shot.

Then came the near-misses, as the Blues nearly took the lead but Quick was able to thwart Ryan Reaves on a drive to the net, then kept Kevin Shattenkirk's rebound from going in as well.

Rookie Jaden Schwartz also has a glorious chance from between the hash marks in the second after a Kings turnover but as has often been the case, fired wide of the net (the Blues missed the net in 21 shots in the game).

Polak coughed up a puck that led to a Dustin Brown breakaway but the Kings' captain slid his breakaway attempt wide on a backhand with 3:28 left in the second.

But unbelievably, instead of a 1-1 game heading into the third, Penner's slap shot from just inside the blue line deflected off Polak's skate and got over Elliott with 0.2 seconds left in the period ... an absolutely deflating type of goal.

"I think it hit my skate," Polak said. "I should just let it go. I should just probably let it go for Ells to see. It was like two seconds left in the period. Yeah, it was a bad play by me.

"It was a bad goal at a bad time, but I think we did a pretty good job in the third period. We had so many chances. We didn't put anything in. I think the forwards and the 'D' and Ells did a great job in the third, but it just didn't go in for us."

Elliott defended Polak on the play.

"It's frustrating that has to be the one that we lost on," Elliott said. "Not much more to say about it. A deflection and even off the post. It evens out in the wash, but we didn't get another chance to throw stuff in the wash.

"I saw it come off because it was going low first, but what can you say? You can't put blame on him for trying to get in front of a puck. We're all trying to do our best out there. Obviously he's frustrated, we're all frustrated that had to be the one we couldn't get back."

Hitchcock wouldn't lay blame on either Elliott or Polak, instead lamenting the fact the Blues failed to get the puck deep into the Kings' zone with possession.

"It's a cast of errors," Hitchcock said. "We didn't get the puck deep twice when we had a chance to clear, we didn't check the right player and it went off our stick. You can't blame Elliott on that. That was a complete deflection and went up almost four feet from where the original shot was. But we didn't get it cleared. We had it twice to get cleared and we panicked with the puck, and it ended up in our net."

The Kings put the gear into lockdown mode the rest of the way. They generated only three shots in the third period but didn't care. They had a lead and wanted to protect it.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Kings' Dustin Brown (right) slides his breakaway attempt wide of the
goal and Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) Friday night.

But Berglund would get his chance with 10:02 left, getting a pass from David Perron and went in alone. Quick got a right pad on the first attempt and Berglund fanned on the rebound at the doorstep.

"I wanted to take one step and go five-hole," Berglund said. "I just picked up the puck pretty quick. ... I wanted to trick him a little bit and take a quick shot. He saved it, the puck was there again and I missed the net."

Seems to have been the story of the series and many times during the season for the Blues, and they now get to go home and reflect on the opportunity missed.

"What I'm going to tell them is it's not good enough," Hitchcock said. "If you want to be a champion, it's not good enough. You can't allow the goalie to outwork you. If you want to be a champion, you're going to have to find a way.

"We're a pretty hungry group here from management to coaches to put a championship team together, and it's not good enough. We can lament on missed opportunities and how hard we played. We really bought in for the last two months in a big way, which gave us a real good feeling about ourselves, but you get opportunities like this ... like we did in Game 3 (a 1-0 loss) and we did in Game 5 (a 3-2 overtime loss) and again tonight, you can't miss those opportunities. I hope our players, when they pause and reflect on it are really, really pissed off and disappointed in the opportunity that we missed here because we didn't finish. We took everything to the beach, but we didn't finish putting it in the water. That's going to be disappointing and we're going to have to live with that for the rest of this summer."

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