By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Blues players were on hand Wednesday to clean out their lockers and belongings one final time after their season ended in the Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Blues captain David Backes answered questions on a variety of season-ending issues:
On his health:
I guess the bottom line is there's plenty of time to recover now unfortunately. We would have pushed through whatever we had to ... to keep playing. There's a few bumps and bruises on every guy after a long season. I wish we were still acquiring more of them than letting them heal.
On injuries being a factor in his play:
I don't know if I was as effective as I would have been if I was full strength. But again, we've got to deal with those just like every team probably had injuries that they were playing through. Together as a collective group, we need to get the job done and it wasn't to be obviously in Round 1, and we got to have these year-end meetings already.
On GM Doug Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock saying the team lacked a killer instinct:
That's obviously what you'd like to see happen when you've got a team down 2-0 and you get a pretty close game in Game 3 and then an overtime game in Game 4 and then another overtime game in Game 5. It's been said a lot in sports that stepping on the throat — that final blow — is a lot of times the toughest one to administer. It's still too fresh to probably come out of their with good lessons we're going to learn from another heart-breaking experiences. But hopefully that's one of the things that we can start to acquire ... that sour taste becomes so sour that you want to give that final blow as soon as you can and abruptly and definitively as possible.
On criticism of Ryan Miller:
I think signaling any one guy out, it's a team sport. We win as a team and lose as a team. I think he's a big man, he'll take his share. I'll take my share. We've got good character guys in here that aren't looking to push that on someone else. We're looking to take the criticism - the blame if you will - for what we did or did not accomplish. Hopefully it makes us better coming out on the other side. But when a job doesn't get done or we have expectations like we have, and they don't get met, then there's going to be some blame to go around. We're going to shoulder that and I think that's why we're more somber this year than we have been in the past because those expectations were there this year, we felt like we have a good group and we didn't get it done. It's going to suck all summer thinking about that every time, watching these other teams play. We think we're better than them in our heads and could outplay them in a seven-game series. Not getting it done, even in the first round, is something that stinks.
On expecting any significant changes:
That's Doug and the front office, their decisions to make. It was a heck of a series and in a tight series like that, if you get a couple of finishes on a couple of plays ... or if our power play figures out a way to produce or you win that special teams battle. Again, do we need to turn this thing upside down and start over. I don't think that's the case in my personal opinion, not that that matters. For me, we've got a lot of great character guys in here that are good friends that love to be around each other and love to go to battle with each other. Correct, we didn't get the job done, but I think we'll learn lessons and be better coming out the other side.
On the lack of offensive ability to finish off a series:
I don't know if I sense that. There's ebbs and flows that go with scoring. Sometimes it seems like you can't miss and that was maybe our first 30-35 games of the year...it seemed it was this defensive-minded team, playing the trap and all this other stuff, and we were scoring 4-5-6 goals on a regular basis. It seemed like we couldn't miss. It was hitting the post and going in. For whatever reason, those things seemed to even themselves out over the course of time and late in the season we weren't scoring at the quite the rate, whether that's bounces or us not making our own luck, or determination around the net. Then into the playoffs with a few opportunities ... you've got to beat the five guys on the ice and then you've got to power it through that goaltender to make sure it counts and cross the red line. We just didn't do a good enough job. You can blame a couple different things for it, but in the end, they found a way to do it, we didn't and they're still playing.
On shaking hands with Blackhawks D Brent Seabrook:
I don't know if it's out of your mind like it never happened, but our personal conversations will stay personal. We've got eight years of playing against each other in a Central Division where we've had some hard-fought battles. You leave a lot of the games with bruised shoulders, wondering if you got hit by a car or not after the games. I think that was more of the exception -- that hit -- and I don't think he feels very good about it. Obviously I wasn't real happy with it. Going forward, we're going to compete our butts off. But to look for vindication with a retaliatory type of hit like that, I think those are the types of things we're trying to get out of the game. I'll battle my butt off, (but) like I said, the best way to get them back for something like that is to win a series and send them home. But that wasn't the case and hopefully again, that can add a bit of fuel to the desire to get the best of our division rivals that have had a lot of success in the past.
On the power play:
I think it was good three years ago against San Jose, in Round 1, and carried us through that first round. But past that, it has been stifled a lot. All year we've got a shot-based power play with a guy in front and traffic finding rebounds. Against Chicago, they blocked so many shots that it never even made it to the hash marks to even start a rebound, chaos, or a little play in front. They were clearing pucks and we were working on our breakout more than trying to dig around the goalie to put pucks in. If I had the answer, I would have fixed it and we would have won the series. But having a little bit more versatility and showing different looks, I think, wouldn't allow them to stay in those shot lanes and block those shots. You get them a little uncertain about what's coming next and maybe a few lanes or plays open up. But that's a lot easier to say than to implement and do. I'm sure that will be an area of focus going into next year. When teams are blocking shots or are in lanes against us, we've got to find different ways to get pucks into the areas where we're going to score from.
On the fine line of winning and losing:
The margins are small. It's four overtimes with really a 1-0 game. Then it was a 1-1 game going into the third of Game 6. The margins are very small. You look back, a short reflection on some of the games was, we were playing really well and then it's a 10-second lapse where they find a guy that's at the far blue line for a breakaway and they score and we had dominated the last 20 minutes of play. You look at that and say, that's kind of an injustice or we didn't deserve that. But reality is, you take that 10-second lapse away and not let them get behind you or stay on the forecheck and they can't make the clean play ... you take that right out of the equation. I think everyone in here has a lot of searching to do to find that ability to stay with our plan for the entire game and not have those small lapses where a team with their ability to score will make you pay and they did.
Is it a simple fix or is this going to be a process?
I don't think it's a flip-the-switch type of fix, but I think it's also not a couple years. I think going through it helps. Losing sucks for sure, but going through some pains of learning, feeling that fire ... some guys, this is their first or second chance at it. Other guys, I've been in the league for eight years and this is my fourth time in the playoffs. You know that it doesn't come along every year, you know that when you get in there, it gets harder and you've got to raise your level. You know that you see guys winning and you want to see guys win so bad that when it doesn't happen, it just builds inside of you and you want to find a way to do it. Hopefully all those things combined makes us a better unit as a group and better unit as a team.