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 defenseman Jordan Leopold answered questions on a variety of season-ending issues:
Does it feel like it was a step back?
It's frustrating. You look at it, I think we had bigger things planned for the group of guys here. Did we underachieve? Yeah. The way we ended the season down the stretch, we had a chance to finish first in the conference, then we slipped down and had Chicago as our first round opponent and that's a tough opponent. I've played on defending Stanley Cup teams, I've played against a couple of them in playoffs. They're a hard team to face in the next year. We got matched up against a tough opponent last year and it's no excuse. They were a good hockey club, but we had a good group of guys and it doesn't do justice when we sit in here late April and pack up our bags and get ready to go home.
Why didn't it happen this time?
You can point the fingers at many things, I guess. The number one thing for us is the inability to score goals. I think getting Ryan was a big step in the right direction for us. He brought a lot to the table with his experience and with his style of goaltending, it kept us in games. If we would have gave him more goals every game for support, I think our team would have played a little differently. Defensively, we played pretty well. During the series, we played good hockey, but we didn't win hockey games.
Lack of a killer instinct?
It's tough. When you have a team down 2-0, of course they aren't going to lay down and die. We have an opportunity to go into their building and win a couple games, or hope to steal one of those and we didn't do it, and we came back home and ended up losing in overtime in dramatic fashion that we did. That was disappointing. That was a tough game for us. We were right there, and the series could have gone either way. A few lucky bounces could have gone our way to get some momentum and get into the swing but that didn't happen and here we are again packing our backs and asking the questions why, what do we have to do to next season. Of course you can say use this as a learning experience, but it's a missed opportunity. I'm an older guy, I played in one Stanley Cup Final back in '04 and you think you're going to be there every year, but it's tough to get back there. I don't think guys realize how hard it is to go three rounds and play a Stanley Cup Final round. Everybody's playing hurt, everybody's doing what they can. It's two months of just absolute grinding hockey and here we are after Round 1 and we're not there. We're on the cusp of doing the right things. It's just a matter of getting that one break or figuring out how to get a team down 3-1 versus 2-2. It's a tough thing, but we have to go through it and be able to go out there and do it together.
Can't control changes to personnel by management; what can you guys change within walls of locker room?
We looked at our composure after the L.A. series last year. We let the emotions get the best of us. I don't think that was the case this round. You can look at the comparisons of how all the games went, how you can look at it as deja vu from years prior but the feeling in the locker room was completely different than it was the L.A. series. It's difficult, but I mean as guys, I think the more calmer the better. It does come down to composure. We had a lot of overtime games in this series. We had guys that did well with all the added pressure that brings. I've always said it's easier to play than watch. We dealt with it. In the end, we found ourselves shaking hands after and packing our bags and going home.
Changes are inevitable; would you like the group to stick together?
The group is a good group of guys as far as attitude, leadership, this and that. I've been on many different teams and sometimes guys don't work well together, sometimes they do. This is a group of guys that works really well together. Coming down the stretch, we limped a little there at the end. I think that was tough emotionally and physically for us. Who knows? Does the nucleus stay together? That's really not for me to answer. That's for Army, Hitch and those guys to sit down and figure out where the hockey team's going. Whatever it ends up being, ultimately we have a job to do, finish the regular season and get ourselves in playoffs and then get ready for the second season. We put ourselves in good position this year and we failed.