Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blackhawks send Blues packing with 5-1 series-clinching victory

St. Louis eliminated for second straight season after 
fumbling 2-0 series lead against defending Stanley Cup champion 

CHICAGO -- The second period Sunday gave the Blues every chance to even their best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The calls were legitimate, and the Blues had ample opportunity with the man advantage.

But time and time again, play was relegated to the perimeter, and when shots funneled to the net, pouncing on those loose pucks was a non-factor.

The Blackhawks survived, pounced to start the third period and the Blues are cooked once again.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp scored goals two minutes into the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie and the Blackhawks, after losing two straight games to begin the series, sent the Blues home packing for the summer once again with a 5-1 loss in Game 6 on Sunday at United Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (74) scored the lone goal Sunday but they were
eliminated by the Blackhawks in Game 6.

For the second straight season, the Blues bow out in the first round of the playoffs after taking a 2-0 series lead. And unlike the previous five games, this one became a rout when it mattered most: in the final period.

In a 1-1 game, the Blues spent nearly the entire second period in the Chicago zone. They outshot the Blackhawks 17-3 in the second period and had a 28-11 advantage after two periods.

But six failed power play opportunities and the game was still tied 1-1. The Blackhawks were a sleeping giant ready to be awakened. They woke up in rousing fashion. Four goals later (scored by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw and Duncan Keith), the rout was on and the Blues were sent home packing for the second straight playoff season after the first round.

"I think the way we played in the first 40 minutes, the game was tilted in our favor," Blues captain David Backes said. "We had quite a few chances, quite a few power play opportunities we don't capitalize on and you're going into the third period with a 1-1 game in a Game 6 where it's laid on the line. 

"They get a power play goal and it seemed to have more of an affect on us than probably it should of. There's still 20 minutes to play in a series that's been damn near tied up the whole time. We start pressing a little bit and they get a few chances and they've got plenty of guys who can bury the puck and got to display it there in the third, but all that stuff aside, we didn't get the job done."

The Blues, who scored 10 goals in six games against the Los Angeles Kings in being disposed last season in six games, scored 14 goals in the series against the Blackhawks. But six of those goals came in the final four games -- all losses -- and the burning issues that haunted the Blues after losing last season will follow them once again heading into another off-season of uncertainty.

"It's so fresh that it's hard to even comment," said right winger T.J. Oshie, who scored the Blues' goal int he first period. "It's hard to take because I think with how far we've come and how much we've done, getting out in the first round doesn't reflect on what we've put in, I don't think. And it doesn't reflect the support that we've gotten from the fans. 

"It's hard. I think St. Louis deserves a Stanley Cup and this should have been the year that we gave it to them."

But the Blackhawks, who become the second straight defending Stanley Cup champion to eliminate the Blues, rose to the occasion in the end and capitalized on a Blues team in the end that felt good about the position they were in going into the third.

"I think we had a real good feeling going into the third, we made a mistake on the penalty kill," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We got seamed. 

"Even at 2-1 we're still in good shape. The third goal was really a back-breaker for us. That was really the one that hurt because we've been chasing all series and been able to catch up in games, but the third goal really took the wind out of our sails. We earned the power plays. We earned the power plays because of the way we worked and battled. We played a great first two periods. I thought the third goal, you could see a big sag on the team after that."

Ryan Miller, who stopped 22 shots, finished the series 2-4 with a 2.70 goals-against average and .897 save percentage.

"I'm just really disappointed the game didn't turn in our direction," Miller said. "(It's) 1-1 going into the third. It's a pretty good situation for us. Didn't get it done."

The Blues looked early on like they were in golf-club mode already, even though they had some early jump at the start of the game. 

In the middle portion of the first period, the Blackhawks dominated play and scored the dreaded first goal within the first five minutes of the game when Bryan Bickell's high deflection of a Brent Seabrook shot beat Miller short side 4:12 into the game.

They were able to regroup on Oshie's second of the series and in as many games when Alexander Steen's terrific fake of Johnny Oduya gave him time to curl around the net, he fed Oshie in the slot for a quick one-timer five-hole on Crawford at 16:28 of the first on a shot Oshie didn't know he scored right away. The puck went in and came back out so fast under Crawford, Oshie didn't know where it was.

The Blues' undoing in the first two periods, particularly, was another case of ineffectiveness on the power play. After going 0-for-2 in the first period, they were 0-for-4 in the second, including a four-minute stretch where Marian Hossa high-sticked Steen. Those six power plays netted 11 shots but no results, making the Blues 2-for-29 in the series.

"I thought we had them," Hitchcock said of the Blackhawks. "We had a calmness, an intensity and a confidence. We were making plays. The puck was bouncing along the goal line. But you gotta score, you gotta finish, and we didn't finish. 

"The first two periods we just played. We played the way we can. We played with a real high level of intensity. We didn't have any panic in our game at all. I think the players felt really, really good after two periods. We were in a great spot, but we made big errors. We made two big mistakes on those two goals and that hurt us a lot. We can't do that stuff if you're going to win at the end. We cracked a little bit, and that's something you don't want to do."

Toews scored 44 seconds into the third on the Blackhawks' first power play of the game when Keith, who had a goal and three assists, saved a puck from clearing the zone and fed Toews, who cut inside of Roman Polak and beat Miller high left as Shaw sealed off Kevin Shattenkirk.

But the Blues were still in the game. However, the third goal by Sharp, after Shattenkirk fired a shot into the shins of Sharp, who was then sprung on a breakaway by Patrick Kane. Shattenkirk was going to get called for a penalty, but Sharp's shot scooted under a flopped Miller at 2:01 to make it 3-1.

"I don't want to get into that right now," Hitchcock said, replying to the question of better decisions on shots from the point. "Mistakes there happened. I don't want to get into it."

"I was in the right spot ... he kind of chipped it, too, in between," Miller said. "It's just too bad."

Hitchcock also didn't want to place blame on Miller on the goal.

"I don't want to get into that either," he said. "The goal was a back-breaker. It was a back-breaker. The bench was still fine. Our team had great spirit at the start, great spirit through the first and second period. 

"To play as well as we've ever played in this building was the way we played the first two periods, and then the third goal, the air went right out of the bench."

And the rout was on, as Shaw scored on a deflection at 7:30 to make it 4-1, and Keith sealed his four-point game by converting on a 2-on-1 with 2:55 to play.

"Yeah, I think it was right there for us," Oshie said. "I don't know what the shots were, but I thought we were playing very well. And I think we woke up some guys in that third period that were sleeping for their team all series."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues and Blackhawks go through the customary handshake after
a series ends after Chicago eliminated St. Louis in six games.

"I really haven't done any dissecting yet, to be honest with you. I don't know, every time someone seemed to be scoring a goal he had a 19, or 88, or 81 or a 10 on his back," Hitchcock said of the Blackhawks. "That's all I really know."

And in the process, the Blues have plenty of time to dissect what might have been and what lies ahead.

"The character in this room is phenomenal," left wing Steve Ott said. "A little bit of a healthier team heading into the playoffs would be a scary, scary team. 

"The character guys in this room were pretty banged up.  It’s not an excuse, I’m sure their guys were a little banged up, too, but this team’s real close. Real close to being something special."

1 comment:

  1. Kudos to the warriors who played hurt. The Cup is won by the team that is spared the injury bug and also has the hot goaltender. Miller was average at best. He was unable to make the saves he needed to and when scoring is an issue, your goalie has to come up big. One question is , why didn't Hitch go to Elliot in an effort to try to steal a game? This team was built to go deep in the playoffs ,however, too many factors worked against them ,ie. injuries, average goaltending, and slumping at the wrong time of the year. Oh well, time to get ready for the World Cup.