Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sour taste lingers for Blues after another early playoff exit

Lack of scoring doomed team against Kings; next
steps will be key to thrusting franchise forward in the future

ST. LOUIS -- They closed the gap on the Los Angeles Kings, as it was a far cry from the four-game sweep to the Kings in the 2012 conference semifinals.

But the bottom line a day after the Blues were eliminated by the same Kings, this time in six games in the conference quarterfinals, is that the Blues may have closed the gap, it wasn't nearly enough.

Friday's frustrating 2-1 loss in Los Angeles gave the Kings the series, winning four in a row after dropping the first two games to the Blues in St. Louis.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Chris Stewart (25) and T.J. Oshie (second from right) go
through the customary handshakes at the end of the series with the Los
Angeles Kings once again Friday night. The Blues lost in six games.

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

A lot of finger pointing can come with the downfall in losing a playoff series, but the bottom line for the Blues was they couldn't solve Quick, or they couldn't solve ... themselves.

Missed opportunity after missed opportunity was evident in the games the Blues won, but they were able to get past the shortcomings. But when it all began to unravel in a 1-0 loss in Game 3 at Staples Center, one player afterwards was overheard saying, "We can't give (expletive) games like that away!"

It was a game in which the Blues got a textbook defensive and goaltending game that was sorely lacking the finishing touch after creating quality chances through hard work.

"We're a pretty hungry group here from management to coaches to put a championship team together, and it's not good enough," Hitchcock said. "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 and we did in Game 5 (a 3-2 overtime loss) and again (Friday), 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."

The Blues only allowed 12 goals to the Kings, an average of two per game, which should be good enough to persevere through a playoff series. But they scored only 10 goals in six games themselves, and only four of them came after taking a 2-0 lead five minutes into Game 4. It was a Brian Elliott-Quick duel that Quick won again.

"I don't know how many goals we scored, but it's like (Game 6), Ells gave up one, two goals. Those are tough games," defenseman Roman Polak said. "We had chances. We did it for 20 minutes every period. We stayed in the offensive zone and we stayed on their 'D,' but at the end of the night, we didn't score and they did. That's the bottom line."

The rundown is as follows:

Andy McDonald -- no points in six games

Chris Stewart, who led the team in goals (18) and points (36) in the regular season -- one assist in six games

David Perron -- two assists in six games

Patrik Berglund, who was second in regular season goals (17) -- one goal, one assist in six games

T.J. Oshie -- two goals (both in Game 4) in six games

Alex Pietrangelo/Kevin Shattenkirk -- combined for one goal in six games

Hitchcock was asked if some of his contributors in the regular season could have given more in the playoffs.

"From a scoring standpoint? Yeah," he said. "That's the small difference, but there's a big difference between playoffs and regular season, a big difference. I just felt like we allowed a goalie to outwork us. I know it's the most important position in our sport, but I think to get to the next level, you can't allow that to happen if you want to get to the next level."

Quick stopped 167 of 177 shots in the series and was the difference again. He allowed only six goals in four games against the Blues in the postseason last spring.

"We were real close," Berglund said. "Now we have to go home. It really sucks. But we have to learn from this, too, and move on."

Added Elliott, who was solid himself for the most past in the series with a 1.90 goals-against average and .919 save percentage: "We put a really good effort in. That's what's more frustrating is we played really well. They kind of just held the fort while we held our chances. ... We played the game we wanted to play. We just didn't come up with the goal support.

"Whenever your season ends, it's going to bother you. You have to reflect on this right now. We'll just have to let it soak in and figure things out for next time."

So the question begs to be asked: where do the Blues go from here. Some of those questions will be answered Sunday when players clean out their lockers and leave for the summer. There will be unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents, evaluations on current players. Plenty of work will be done this off-season to try and get this franchise to the next level.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues and Los Angeles Kings shake hands after the Kings took out
the Blues in six games, beating them in the postseason again.

"You only get so many years in the league, you only get so many times in the playoffs to try and make a run," said captain David Backes, who finished with a goal and three points in the series. "This team was hot going into the playoffs and added pieces at the deadline (defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold), didn't stand pat or sell or any of that. We took on some big players and we were expecting better than this. I don't know what the next step is, but right now, it's just sour."

The Blues, with a fragile franchise as it is financially, won't go on any spending sprees this summer. If changes are to be made, general manager Doug Armstrong will have to maneuver his way through a clever trade or two to give the roster a bit of a makeover, or as Hitchcock said, the people from within need to step up.

"I think it's open now, but we have to look at ourselves a little bit," Hitchcock said. "... Adding Bouwmeester and Leopold really enhanced our hockey club. They really helped us. They brought us composure and compete and big minutes. They really helped us, but the people that we count on that we've grown have to play better for us to get to the next level quite frankly. We need more from the people that are home-grown. That's something that we'll address in the off-season in conversations from each individual, but that's what we need. We need the home-grown guys, the guys that we've built around to get to the next level."

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