Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Blues goalie Ryan Miller

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 goalie Ryan Miller was acquired near the trade deadline to upgrade the team in goal, and after going 2-4 with a 2.70 goals-against average and .897 save percentage in the playoffs (Miller was 10-8-1 with a 2.47 GAA and .903 save percentage in the regular season), goals fell well short. He answered questions on a variety of season-ending issues, including if he would welcome a return to the Blues despite the opportunity to test free agency July 1:

Is it any easier?
You try to just take a few days, but in my experience it never really helps. It takes a few weeks, a few months. It’s not fun, especially with the expectations moving forward and having a positive progression for this team. From what the guys are saying it feels a lot like the year prior.
It's frustrating not to be able to contribute to a step forward and it feels like a missed opportunity. It’s going to take a while.

Does criticism bother you after Blackhawks series?
You're the goaltender, you're going to take a lot of the focus of everything. Just the way everything worked out, the trade and the mood around this making a step forward ... it's pretty much inevitable unless we had won the Stanley Cup there was going to be a lot of criticism. I knew what to expect coming in and I'll take my share of the blame. I could have played better, but it is what it is.

Even the last game people look at the score, 5-1, it’s 1-1 going into the third period. We played essentially what I feel were six one-goal games. We won two of them and didn’t get the job done in the other ones.

It was a good series against a tough opponent who went through their own bumps and bruises years ago to learn how to win. I remember watching Chicago against Vancouver a few years ago before they won and you could see that they had to make a pretty big adjustment in the way they approached teams like that. I guess our adjustment is going to be how we play teams like Chicago. Once we get that mindset and that adjustment, I can see that there can be a step forward. Sometimes it takes something kind of painful to inspire a little bit of that change.

Still interested in the Blues?
Yeah, I don't close any avenues with anybody, especially in this kind of profession. I'm just trying to make my best impression wherever I’m at. I know it didn't work out in this playoff series; I think it’s a good group here and it’s up to management to make decisions about my situation going forward.

I really didn't know a lot about the city coming in here. I had visited a few times when I was younger just to play hockey, you know you're kind of in, then you're out. I spent some time here and got to know a few people. I love the area and it’s nice, it’s funny how a different part of the world unfolds and opens up for you. Good people, very passionate and as pissed off as they probably are at me right now, it's good. It shows they're sports fans and they're committed to their team. They have passion, they have pride, it's the kind of people you want to play for. If it works out that management wants me back ... if it works out I'm back here, that's the kind of people you want to play for. I hope they would appreciate the effort I try and bring and I hope they continue to support the Blues because they have a great group of guys here. Tremendous upside and I know that people wanted it to be better this year and we wanted it to be better. This team is going to be better.

Would you like to get something done with the Blues relatively soon or take it to free agency?
I'm not sure. I have to have more discussion with management on where they're at with everything. It's not something we're going to do two or three days after we lost. It's something where you kind of want to get away from the situation by a few weeks probably. I'm sure they'll want to have something, an answer on their side, before the draft. It's more directed towards Doug (Armstrong) and the coaching staff and how they kind of see this team being built. That being said, I liked my time here, (I'm) open to staying. I think it's a solid organization from the top down. We'll just see what happens.

At this point in your career, is length of term more important or the team?
Just (the) team, honestly. It's something where I want to do my part to contribute to a team that's going to build and have a chance to win. These are frustrating times when you bow out of the playoffs, so it's just not the time to talk about it. We'll get around to it.

Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz

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 left wing Jaden Schwartz answered questions on a variety of season-ending issues, including taking on a bigger role next season after career highs in goals (25), assists (31) and points (56):

Disappointing because same scenario happened again?
Yeah it's disappointing when you don't reach your goal. To lose in the first round again, kind of the same thing that happened like last year, no one here's happy. If it doesn't motivate you to get better this summer then I don't know what will. We're all disappointed here and tough to talk about right now, but when you get some time to think about it and you watch these teams keep playing, obviously that's going to frustrate you even more. It's tough right now.

Why do you feel like it went wrong again after a 2-0 series start?
We're playing the defending champs again so they've been through that before. But that's no excuse. When you get a 2-0 lead, you're in a good spot. You want to try to get a split, try to get a win in Chicago to give you some momentum. They're tight games. Every game could have gone either way, puck-luck and the bounces, power plays and what-not. We didn't play well, but in the playoffs, winning's the only thing that matters. We had our chances and we couldn't execute. We missed a lot of scoring chances and against teams like that, when you're missing Grade-A chances, they're going to bury theirs more times than not. That was part of it.

Lacking killer instinct?
I personally think the killer instinct's there. We all knew how important those games were. We wanted the win more than any other game. We didn't want them getting any momentum. We knew how a win would help us. It's not like we went in there and we wanted them back into it or anything. Our game plan going in was to win both, but if you lose that first one, you want to come back with a chance to win the series. We couldn't get a a lot of bounces or not scoring a goal in Game 3 hurts a little bit. We'll have win to think about it and it motivates you. I don't think it's a matter of the killer instinct's not there. It's not easy beating the defending champs four in a row or in five. We knew it was going to be a long series.

On your play along with Vladimir Tarasenko; expecting bigger roles:
I'm excited to get back again. I want to come and play a big part on this team. I feel like I've learned a lot this year. I know he did, too. I think it gives you a little more confidence maybe coming into next year. I'm going to work hard coming in here next year. I want to be a big part of this team. I played pretty well this season. There's always things you can improve on and things I can learn. I was pretty happy with the way the the regular season went. As the season went on, I felt like my role got bigger and I kind of wanted to keep that momentum going into next year.

On fans being upset:
We're all disappointed. They are, we are. It's never fun when you lose. There's going to be 29 other teams in this league doing the same thing. They're not going to be happy. We've got great fans and we want them continuing to support us and have that belief that we'll reach our goal here. We're going to do everything we can to do that next year. It's not easy; it's hard. We're all disappointed, so it's understandable.

Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk

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 Kevin Shattenkirk answered questions on a variety of season-ending issues:

More disappointment this year than last?
Yeah. Not that we made excuses last year, but we took steps last year, I think, and this year, we took steps backwards. For guys like us to be in that same position, if we're going to learn from it, we're going to have to change and do something about it ... win two more games and win the series, close the series out and we didn't do it. It's disappointing and it falls on our shoulders.

Changes in off-season; do you have to prepare for that?
Yeah, I think if you win the Stanley Cup, there's going to be changes made in the locker room. That's just the nature of the business and obviously with the way things have gone the last two years, Army's a guy who's going to make changes to try to put the best team forward, the best playoff team forward. Whatever they may be, we're going to have to wait and see.

3-5 year window. Three years in a row, eliminated by four-game sweeps. What needs to change as far as on-ice product? Lack of a killer instinct?
The first year against L.A. when we were swept, it was really like a smack in the face. And then we got out to 2-0 leads and then we're doing it because we're playing the right way early in series. You just have to stay with that game plan and ... it's hard because you're playing the same team over and over again. They're going to make changes in their game plan. We have to make our changes as well, adjust and execute. But at the end of the day, it comes down to burying a team. I don't think that that's not in this locker room, but it hasn't been there the last two years. We have to collectively go and try to find reasons why and try to change that within our team.

Fan anger ... understand the way they feel?
Absolutely. I don't hold anything against them for that. They're entitled to being upset about this. Of course we are too. For them on the outside looking in, it's hard because they just have to go through it every year and have been waiting a long time. We obviously want to be the ones to change that and give them what we know they deserve and to really kind of under-perform this year, it hurts.

Killer instinct come from within or taught?
I don't know if it can be taught. I think you can find it. That's something you can develop over time going through more situations. You can feel out a series the more you play in playoffs and the more you understand when those moments present themselves. You really have to finish a team. We've seen those moments now and we haven't been able to do it, but I definitely think you can collectively develop that within a team.

Step back, process it. Bigger hunger next year, but do you need to take a hard look at this and reflect?
You have to. If you don't, then we'll be here same time next year. It's tough. We don't want to go through this again to be honest. That's just what it comes down to. We have to really look at this and individually look and think about what you can change and what you can do better and as a group, figure out a new way to approach this thing and develop and become a better team.

What can you do better moving forward?
I think in this series, I played well at the beginning and kind of tapered off towards the end. That's something right now that's really been bothering me. That consistency that you have to play with in playoffs and the mental aspect of it, which is something that I think I really need to grow. Just become mentally tougher and be able to keep putting the same product out game in, game out in the playoffs. That's kind of the aspect that I need to really step up and mature as a player mentally.

Blues captain David Backes

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 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.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock addressed the media Tuesday at Scottrade Center in the final press conference of the 2013-14 season. 

Hitchcock, who finished his third season with the Blues and 17th overall, addressed a wide variety of issues:

On getting 5-10 percent more from group?
You measure your team based on significant opponents from a coaching standpoint. When you win the games you're supposed to win, that's the preparation that the players do. When you have an opponent that you're either better than, more mature than, you win those games. You've done a good job in not letting points slip, but you measure your team against significant opponents. So teams that are in the same echelon as you, you measure your team against that and then you measure your team in the playoffs. The playoffs tell you everything as a coach. They tell you everything about yourself, they tell you everything about your players, they tell you everything about how close you are, what you need to do better, what you've done well ... they tell you everything. But also the in-season games against significant opponents tell you the same story too. We had a helluva year offensively from a lot of guys, career year. In saying that, everybody's going to talk about the loss in Game 6, and they're going to talk about the loss in Game 6 in Los Angeles and in Chicago. The series wasn't lost in Game 6. Sure, we played our best period of hockey in the whole series in the second period in Chicago, but that wasn't where we lost the series. And it wasn't where we lost the series in Los Angeles. We lost the series in (Games) 3 and 4. When we had the opportunity, we had in both series pushed out significant players who were very frustrated in the opposition. They were pushed out of the series, they weren't entering the series. That bought them time to come into the series in both instances and that's what happened. Players that weren't entered (in) the series or who hadn't entered the series against Chicago, came in in (Games) 5 and 6. We had frustrated them, eliminated them, whatever. They came into the series. We weren't able to create the gap in Games 3 and 4 and win on the road, which you have to do in the playoffs. That's the killer instinct that you need to have. We weren't able to do it in either series, and it hurts. That's everybody's responsibility ... mine, Doug's, players, other coaches, everybody. And that's the part that hurts is that we couldn't apply the killer instinct when we needed to in (Games) 3 and 4 in both years, and that's something you've got to have a hard look at. But it's also the games against significant opponents during the year that you have to look at and obviously other aspects of your game, whether it's special teams or whatever.

Why do you believe the top players haven't been able to execute in the postseason as they have in the regular season?
I don't look at it from top players, blah blah blah, this guy needed to do this, this needed to do that. It's a push, it's a team push. We win as a team and we lose as a team; especially as coaches. I don't want to get into we needed more from this guy or we needed more from that guy. We needed to open the wound. We opened the wound by the way we played. We played really well to start the playoffs and we had our foot on their throat with the way we played in Game 3 and we couldn't squeeze. We couldn't get the goal or we couldn't get when we had them emotionally pushed out even into Game 4, the games in three and four gave them the life that allowed other players who were very frustrated by our checking to enter the series. They ended up coming through at the end for them. We had done a great job, but we couldn't push through and get the goal, get the lead or whatever after playing well. They got more wind in their sails. To me, Game 6 is a little bit of a microcosm of what went on. You push, you push and you push and then they wake up after the second period and they look in their locker room and say, 'Holy smokes, it's still tied here. We might as well go win it.' And then people you have not heard from in the series score big goals. And end of series. It's the collective push for me as a coach. It's not just the playoffs, it's the measure of significant opponents that is the next level for me. That's why you wake up and you grind. You get up and you start grinding. You don't grind on, 'We need this or we need that.' That's the general manager's job. My job is to find more from the group that I'm given. So you find ways and you try to create an atmosphere to even get more from your team. Who's on your team, who plays, what they do. We put two guys that were just learning the game last year, (Jaden) Schwartz and (Vladimir) Tarasenko, they're significant players for us. There's a lot of really great pieces here that have really emerged as good players now, but we've got to help them along and find a way to push through when you're sitting in a series like that. To me, everybody talks about ... you just can't live on playing well. You've got to have time when it's the killer instinct and you've got to put the foot right on the throat. I keep saying that, but when it's time to put it on, you've got to put it on and we didn't. We let two teams, two really good teams ... we let em off the hook. And when they got off the hook, then they started to play and the people that we had boxed out came into the game.

Consider changes in coaching staff?
I look at everything. I look at me to start with, I look at the job that I've done. I look at prep, I look at personnel, I look at the way we play them, I look at coaches, I look at everything. We're in the winning business. I look at everything. I just don't look at it today. I look at it a week from now or I evaluate and I get as much information, but the first thing I look at is me. What do I need to do to help this thing along. It's different. Nothing to take away from other teams in the playoffs, but it's different when you play teams who are Cup winners. You get such an immediate evaluation of your own group that it's really black and white. There is no gray area, there's no hiding, there's no mystique, no nothing. It's just straight black and white. You get a great evaluation. Unfortunately we've got these two great evaluations based on significant opponents. ... When you get a couple teams in the prime of their careers who know how to win, you really have to push them out because if you just push them up to the wall and you don't get them through, they're going to come back on and that's what both teams did. What was eerily similar wasn't the scores of the games, but the players that were frustrated in L.A. and came back to beat us and then the players that were really frustrated in Chicago and then came back to beat us, that was what was similar to me. We had done a great job in pushing people out that we thought maybe we could take advantage of or at least neutralize but they came back in the series. We allowed them back in and they became players in the series.

Are you comfortable with your group being able to step up?
We had (111) points and what we did really well all year quite frankly was we had the lead a lot and we are really tough with the lead. Nobody gets in our pocket when we've got the lead. We know how to play. We've got great structure. Guys buy in, all that stuff. But we're like a lot of teams emerging here trying to get better. You need to have a different type of team to chase games and that's not how we're build, to chase hockey games. We're built to close you down and close you down hard. We're built a certain way here and we've got personnel here to do it that way. The 1-0 game is a perfect microcosm of the playoffs for me for two years now. You chase it so hard, but if we had a 1-0 lead and had them chase us, it would be a different story.

Power play opinion change after postseason failure?
I think when you look at it on paper, you say, 'Oh jeez, if we could have scored here, if we could have scored there.' The game (Game 6) was tied going into the third period on the road. I don't care what the score was, 1-1, 2-2, 4-4, doesn't matter. Where we made mistakes when the game was on the line, we made mistakes defensively and like I said, Game 6 doesn't matter what the score is, it's tied and if you're a road team, that's exactly where you want it. That chance, that opportunity and yeah, we would have liked to score on the power play and we would have liked to be better and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, we made two big errors to give it to 3-1, and 3-1 was ... the fourth and fifth goals don't matter to me. They don't count. We were pressing taking chances. But we made two big errors when the game was on the line. We made a checking error in Game 5 here when the game was on the line. That's a concern. That's the questions that you ask of your players. Why are we pressing in that area? What are we thinking? Those are the questions that we've got to look at the video and live with all summer because those are the critical points of games. Those are the details that have been in our game for three years now that have given us a chance to have a great record. Those checking details have allowed our offense to get better and better, but I thought yeah, our power play could have been better. We would have liked to score goals, but even saying that, we needed to check better in some areas, too.

Do you plan to stick with what you've done on PP?
I'm not there right now. I haven't started figuring out stuff like that yet. Not there yet.

Talking about Games 3 and 4, how much of a watershed moment as it turned out was losing Backes?
Everybody loses guys. I saw things from some of their key players. I knew how hurt they were because I saw them and have coached them before. When they were jumping out of the way like they were jumping out of the way, they were banged up. They had players who were almost down for the count, too. That's just the way it goes. That's the playoffs. 

What's the process now for you?
I need to process. I need to, no offense, but get away from you (media) folks. I need to process and figure out. I think moving forward I'll go over all the significant games from the season. I'll look at all of our games against Anaheim, Los Angeles and Chicago, San Jose, get some real evaluation on that, then obviously look at the playoff stuff, too. Those would be the games I'd look at and see what's there and what we need to change, things like that. I think you have to be careful evaluating one aspect. I think you've got to be careful when you evaluate one aspect of your game because there's a whole encompassing thing. Just because your power play has a tough two or three games, you still have to win the game. Maybe your PK is had a rough go for a game, you still have to win the hockey game. There's all the pick-me-ups that go, but I think once you look at the way you've played against significant opponents, you get a really good evaluation of what part you need to help along.

Is a killer instinct something that comes from within? What can coaches do to help in that regard?
No, it's developed. ... Yeah. Yep there is. It means sometimes it's not pretty at times, but you can do that. That's developed. That's not God-given. That's developed from within your group.

Starts to games?
That goes to the killer part. There's a reason for that. We need to talk about that, too. If you're going to start the fight, you need to know you can finish it. That's just the confidence that goes within the group that has to come from us. It's really, really important that we develop that mindset. That just enhances your team that you're willing to go a little bit deeper. It's that killer instinct. If you look at just some of the games from series even last night, a game's on the line in one of the series late last night and it's the same four guys that step up. We've got to develop that mindset with guys that we think can make a difference, give them the trust and confidence that they can do that stuff. 

Mutual option on contract, level of coaching?
You mean am I too old? I love living here, I love working here, I love working with Doug. That's something he and I will talk about. We've made a home here. We've made significant progress here. I know it doesn't feel like progress to people right now, but it is. I've only been here three years. I see the progress, I know the debris of years of getting close and being frustrated and then building it. I see the level of improvement here. It's incredible. I see the level some of the younger players have improved at. I know Doug wants to bring in a couple more, which is great with us. If they think they're ready, then it's our job to get them playing and up and running just like we did with Schwartzy and Vlad. But there's a real high level of commitment here by the fans and by the players. We've just got to help it along and enhance it, improve it. It's really tough, it's really tough to go through what you're going through right now, but you just from an evaluation standpoint, you get just a true evaluation of ... there's no gray area. It is what it is. It's tough to go through, but there's just  no gray area on evaluation now. I know exactly what's needed from a play standpoint. We've just got to find a way to move it forward.

Curse of Scotty Bowman (last time Blues made finals)?
I don't think so. We're one of the eight now by tomorrow that are out and we're one of those teams trying. The one thing you realize though, as you're watching this thing, this division's going to be harder and harder because of what Dallas did, obviously Chicago's a top dog, we're a good team, Winnipeg had a big run at the end. I mean, this division's going to be incredible. Look at Colorado, they're right there. This is going to be one helluva division. You're going to have to be really on top of your game right from Day 1. There's going to be significant opponents right off the bat.

Glaring difference in team's game in critical areas on the ice?

To me, it's when you've got your foot on the throat, step. That's what we've got to do. I don't know any other way to describe it. However the play is, you've got to step on it. When you're in a position like we've done like this year, playing well enough and then saying, 'We played great but we didn't win,' we out-chanced them, it's all window dressing right now for the end result. End result is we've got to go further, further in every aspect of your game; further in checking, further on special teams, further on scoring. You've just got to go further. It's hard to do, but you've got to do it. You can add 10 pieces to a hockey club, but you have to have commitment to go further, and those are the hard conversations you have to have. Those are the hard things you have to do.

Is it hard to understand why they don't step when an opponent is down?
No, that's not hard to understand. It's a learning skill. 

Is your evaluation of these guys clear?

You get a great evaluation on everybody, your team game and your individual play when you play significant opponents. It's not just based on playoffs. It's significant opponents. So when you play top dogs, you really get a good evaluation of what you have. We know what we have. Doug knows what we have. It's our job to just keep grinding and to keep getting ourselves better and better. Our team's a lot better team this year than we were last year. We're a lot better, a lot better in a lot of aspects. But there's still some big dogs out there. They've gone through the same stuff we did. This was the same stuff you hear from Chicago or you hear three years in L.A. They've gone through that stuff. I just don't want to get into ... I know what you've got to ask. It's not my job right now. I'm trying to explain to people don't get lost in losing Game 6. That wasn't Game 6 in my opinion. It was before that. That's more the similarities. We can't dismiss that or write that off. They've got to learn from it. Those are the tough things you go through your leadership you've got to figure out.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong

ST. LOUIS -- Here's the transcript of Doug Armstrong from Tuesday's season-ending press conference, where the Blues general manager touches on a number of issues:

What do you need to do to take this team from being a good regular season team to a good playoff team?
The coaches are going to meet with Al MacInnis and Dave Taylor to get their thoughts. I'm going to be heading myself to Chicago Thursday to watch some of our American Hockey League players, to see how close they are to helping our team next season, and then we're going to have to peel back the layers. Each year, you peel a layer back and hope you've gone deep enough and with this year's disappointment, we're going to have to look a little bit deeper to players and to ... starting with myself and areas I need to improve to give them the best opportunity to have success. These are difficult days because ... I don't want to say anything to let the belief out that these are excuses, because there are no excuses. We're in the winning business and we’re not winning at the appropriate time of the year and we have to fix that. We lost to a very good team. I'd like to tip my hat to Stan Bowman, Joel Quenneville and the whole Blackhawk team. There's a reason they are Stanley Cup champions a couple of times over the last four or five years. We saw that in this series. When the temperature went from a simmer to a boil, their best players elevated their game. You look at the game-winning goals scored by what type of players and how they were scored and how the series progressed, I tip my hat to the Blackhawks and what they accomplished. Now we have to find a way to create that synergy and environment where we have those type of players that get us the goal when we need the goal scored.

How alarming is it that the nucleus has been here for six or seven years hasn't been able to rise to the occasion for three straight playoff years?
The six or seven years, I don't really believe in. To me, it's the three years. Players were put into positions here to learn on the job and that's difficult in this league. As they were learning, we went through some tough times. I look at the regular season success this team has had over the last three years. I think our point total is probably in the top three or four in the NHL over that time frame. So, we're doing some things correctly, but we're not doing enough correctly to win in April, May and June. Quite honestly, I've got to quit worrying about May. We've got to get out of April first and we’re not doing that yet. My job responsibility is to peel back the layers and see if we can work together with this group to see if we can get to a new level or make necessary changes to get to a new level.

Last year, positive steps forward. Do you feel the same this year?
No. I felt last year that we were coming off of a year when no one expected us to be good the year before and we wanted to prove that we were a good team and we did that by securing home ice. I expected us to take it to a higher level this year and the higher level was going to be a consistent regular season followed by a longer playoff run. So, this year, there's a true sense, hurt, that we have squandered an opportunity and opportunities don’t come a lot in this league.

Assess Ryan Miller? 
As a management group, what you want to do at the trade deadline is assess your team and you don't want to spend fool's gold. At that time, you say, 'OK, you're either buyers, sellers or you're neutral.' We believed that neutral was going to be fine unless we could make one trade and to get the goalie. I think that Ryan and our team ... We win as a team and we lose as a team. I thought that Ryan wasn't the reason that this series ended in six (games). The series turned on a couple of things. Obviously the last one was our inability to score power play goals. That's haunted us now for two playoffs. That’s nothing to do with Ryan Miller. He's a long way from Crawford in the second period. Some of the goals that went in, deflections, things like that, breakaways ... as a team, we didn't get the job done and he's certainly part of that, but he's not a scapegoat for this. It would be disingenuous to even go down that path. He gave us an opportunity. 

Moving forward with goaltending next year? 
It's like going to the dentist. The freezing's coming out and now it hurts. This is really painful. Today's a lot harder than it was yesterday. We got to figure out a way to get better. With the goaltending, Jake Allen is going to be here next year. He's earned the right. He’s the top American League goalie. He's got that team in the playoffs. Now we're going to see how far he can take it. He will be one of two. Who his partner will be will be discussed at the appropriate time and that will be over the next few weeks. It's a two way street with Ryan at this time. He has opportunities. I want to sit and talk to him. I want to get his feelings about our organization, how he felt about coming in, where he thinks we’re at, see if he even has any interest in being a St. Louis Blue.

Are your best players good enough to compete with other team's best players in the playoffs?
We haven't got it done and we have to find out if the chemistry is correct. It's a difficult league to acquire players in. My job is to find a way to get it done. I look at what happened at the trade deadline, I look at people signing their free agents prior to getting there. We did it with Bouwmeester, we did it with Steen. I look at last year's free agent pool that was available, what players from that pool are excelling in this year's playoffs. Not only if players are playing good, but are they the Toews, are they the Kane's are they the Crosby's, are they the players that are pushing you over the top; I'm not sure if I've seen that from a free agent group and I'm not sure if free agency is the way to go. Then it's getting a team to want to move a top scoring player, and I know the cost in doing that. I haven't found the team that wants to give us the 50-goal guy yet, but I know the two or three names they're going to ask for and that's robbing Peter to pay Paul. I have to sit with the coach and find if there is a different way to compliment this group. Is there a different formula used on the ice to create more opportunities? It doesn’t come down just to puck luck, but at some point, we've got to start getting some puck luck. We're going to search the market, we're going to see how we can improve our team, but we're not going to do something that's a knee-jerk reaction, something that doesn't fit into what we believe will be successful. There are good players out there. As I said, most of them usually stay with the team that they're at, but if we can improve our team, but I trust the group of players that are here. I have trusted them now for three years. The coaches trusted them, and more importantly, they trusted each other. I'm going to have to sit with these guys, not in the next two or three days, this is something I'll do over the end of May, into June and meet with some of these guys, meet with them in person or talk with them over the phone to get their assessment. We need to be better at this time of year.

Schwartz/Tarasenko on being those guys next year?
Yes. I think they can take a deeper and bigger role. I thought Vlady showed his skill-set at the first part of the series. As the series wore on, two things happened. If they circled him once, they double-circled them as the player they had to stop. And I think his conditioning and his overall taking a month off was catching up to him. And it's his first time through. He wasn't a participant in the L.A. series last year. This is his first time through. He will be better, he will be stronger, he will learn from it. I think Jaden Schwartz will also learn from it. ... It's difficult, but we need to get those two guys going. I have Alex (Pietrangelo), (Kevin) Shattenkirk, those two players all under the age of 25. There's some good building blocks. We still have some other players at the core of their career, but we need that killer instinct, we need to be able to when you have a team down 2-0, you need to take the knife and jam it through their eye into their brain and kill them. We don't do that.

Coaching staff accountable when you talk about PP goals?
I think we're all accountable. Now is not the time to isolate a person or player or part of the organization and set them adrift and hope that the problem goes away. We have to get better as a staff, I have to get better, coaches have to get better, we have to find a way. Ken has done a solid, strong job in his three years here. One of the positives I take away from this -- no one else will but I do -- is it's good to be here with the sense that you expect better from us. You expect us to be better, we expect to be better. Making the playoffs no longer is good enough. There's some franchises that are losing in the first round had good years. We're not one of them. We're a franchise that lost in the first round that did not meet its expectations. We have to figure it out. Is coaching part of it, is playing part of it, is managing part of it? It sure is. Is conditioning part of it, is every aspect part of it? Yes it is. 

Olympics coincidence?
They've obviously done a study. When Olympics are held in North America, the injuries are much less than on the other side of North America. The sample size isn't great; it's three times versus two. I think we taxed our players quite a bit. I was fortunate enough to be a part of it, but it's different sitting in the press box drinking coffee and chewing gum than what those guys were asked to do on the ice. I think it's something the league is going to have to look at, the value to the Olympics to the value that it does now. We're out; Chicago's moving on. They had the same players. It wasn't an issue for the Blackhawks. At the end of the day, it can't be an issue for us. What got us, I think, started with innocent play at the end of a game in Nashville with Tarasenko going down and that just started the ball rolling. The last six games of the season, I thought we lost our composure in the Colorado game and that snowballed into the Chicago game. Then the ball starts rolling. The games that came back to haunt us ... not that we would have beaten Dallas or Minnesota and would have given us a free walk to the second round, but they don't have the knowledge that Chicago has on what it takes to win. I might not be saying that in four weeks or five weeks. One of those two teams might be the Stanley Cup champs, but right now, we put ourselves in a position due to lack of success at the end that had to play the team with the knowledge.

On defense, quality in playoffs?
I think that's a fair assessment, but I think that assessment is blanket. I don't think that any facet of our group has been good enough in the playoffs. We have to find a way. These are good players. Two of the three top ones are young. Nobody wants to hear it, it's not an excuse, they're 24 years old. They're not even in the prime of their career, but we need more from all of our top players. With all due respect, and not to come off as a smartass, but when Barret Jackman and Chris Porter are tied for third for scoring, you need more from other people.

Anybody else coming up?
Yeah, Dmitrij Jaskin and Jake Allen are going to have jobs. It's for them to lose, not for them to gain. I don't know if I've told the coach that, but you guys can tell him when  I leave. They have jobs now on this roster and it's for them to take that and expand it. Ty Rattie's another player I want to go watch. He's a first-year player, he had 30 goals in the American Hockey League. I want to see how he performs in the playoffs. One of the things we want to guard against, I think, as an organization is putting players in positions to fail and not to succeed. That's not good for their development, that's not good for the franchise. Patience is something that you have to show, but we have to give them the opportunity, but we're not going to try and jam a square peg into a round hole to say, 'Well look at our average age, it's younger.' That's losing hockey in my opinion.

View Allen as a potential No. 1 next year?
I view Jake Allen coming in here next year competing for starts. 

Same opinion with Miller here?
Jake Allen's partner is going to have to hold Jake Allen out. Jake Allen is going to have to compete with his partner for ice time.

He's another younger guy that's going to be into our 12 ... most definitely. I made the decision to bring Brenden Morrow in, I made the decision to push younger players back to go for experience. It affected Paajarvi probably more than anyone. Magnus is going to get the opportunity to come and create space for himself. Now Magnus has a lot to do this summer. He's got to get stronger, he's got to get bigger. He has to commit to becoming the player that we want. If he does that, the ice time will be here. If he doesn't do that, then someone else is going to find and take that ice time. He is one player that has the responsibility to grab hold of his career physically and do whatever he can do to get to the next level.

Second-line center as a need?
I think we have to see where Berglund's going to get to. He's one player that I think played with a dislocated shoulder. He dislocated it in Dallas. Probably a three-week injury and came back in a week. He wasn't the player that he normally is. I think he can potentially grab some of those minutes. Sobotka's the guy that you always push out that always pushes his way back in. That's what I'm talking about with Paajarvi and all these other guys. Here's a guy that just comes and says, 'Where's the competition? Alright, I'll take it.' When we traded for him, did we think he was going to be a second-line center? Is Schwartz, Sobotka, Tarasenko one of our two best lines on a nightly basis? Yes. Maybe that's just where he fits in. 

Find a veteran or two?
I think that that is going to fall on the returning players that have been here for a while to grab that. We've given them that opportunity and it has to become their team, they have to be the ones that hold each other accountable for it. I don't think there's a 31-year-old or 32-year-old veteran player that's going to come in here and reinvent the wheel for the St. Louis Blues.

The guys are actually doing their medicals tonight and we're having their exit meetings tomorrow. I'll get more information. I know that lots of guys are banged up, but lots of guys are banged up around the NHL at this time of year. That's what makes these guys special people and special athletes. They tape an aspirin to it and they go play until they've got to get it fixed when the season's over.

Requests for players to play at the World Championships?
I've had some requests from some players. Waiting on the medicals. I should know by Thursday on if the players are going to be healthy enough to go. That list should become available then.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Another early playoff exit has Blues facing more uncertainty

Team eliminated in first round of playoffs for second consecutive 
season heads into off-season with more questions than answers

ST. LOUIS -- Another early playoff exit was not what the Blues expected, even after a season-ending six-game losing streak.

But the Blues are faced with more questions than answers after another disappointing --  and bitter -- first round playoff exit.

For the second straight season, the Blues jumped out of the gates in the Western Conference playoffs winning the first two games before dropping the final four.

In 2013, it was the Los Angeles Kings. And after a 5-1 defeat Sunday at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, the Blues enter another off-season with more questions than answers.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players (from left to right) Chris Porter, Maxim Lapierre and Vladimir
Tarasenko as well as coach Ken Hitchcock face another off-season of
uncertainty after a second straight first-round playoff exit. 

A regular season that saw a record-setting 52 victories (of course nine of them via shootout) and they were on pace for a record-setting number of points before a six-game losing streak to end the regular season that began with a sudden rash of injuries.

And what seemed like an insurmountable occasion, a first round matchup against the Blackhawks, suddenly became a reality when the Blues lost the division lead to the Colorado Avalanche.

But all seemingly was forgotten when the Blues won Games 1 and 2 in triple overtime and overtime, respectively. This time, they would learn from last year's experience of losing a 2-0 series lead. And heading into these playoffs, a team that held a 2-0 series lead would go on to win 86.4 percent of the time.

But painfully for the Blues, it was deja vu all over again.

"It's frustrating," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "I think at times Chicago beat us and I think at times, we beat ourselves. Some mistakes that we made that cost us. They played hard. They battled and the series could have gone either way, but it's a tough pill to swallow right now."

Another case of so close, yet so far away.

"Can't (process it) right now," said captain David Backes, who played four of the six games in the series with a broken left toe sustained from that blocked shot April 8 from teammate Alexander Steen. "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. That's not more true than now. Close didn't get it done. Same scenario as last year where we won two close games to start and then even Games 3 and 4 in here were close, really one-goal games, one empty-netter and one OT game. Back to our building for an OT game and then a 1-1 game going into the third here, but you knew the margins were going to be thin that we had to play our best hockey to win four games here and we played pretty well throughout, but the result is not what we desired and we have to be better and that starts with myself."

The Blues, who finished with 111 points this season, dropped 10 of their final 12 games going back to the regular season. And what had been a great regular season yet again, seems like it was all lost with another early playoff exit.

"It doesn't get any easier. Every year, you don't make the playoffs or lose in the first round or you lose, period, it's just a wasted opportunity," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "We had, up until the last week or two of the regular season, we had a fantastic year. We had it turned around in the first couple of games, and then had a couple close ones here, a close one back home and then for two periods played pretty well (Sunday).

"They stuck with it and it's the same lesson we learned last year. ... It doesn't matter who you are, when you lose it's (lousy). We knew the series wasn't going to be easy, they're a good team and had their successes recently. It just goes down the tube and it's all for nothing now."

Besides Backes, Patrik Berglund played with a separated shoulder, Brenden Morrow was lost for the series with a broken foot, Vladimir Sobotka played with various injuries, Vladimir Tarasenko, who led the Blues with four playoff goals, came back two weeks sooner than expected with his hand injury sustained in mid-March, to name a few. But the Blues refuse to use it as an excuse.

"It's the playoffs. You never want to be out and watching your guys battle and watching those two games, I couldn't be more prouder of throwing it on the line and playing their butts off," Backes said. "From that hit (in Game 2), I was out and (Brent) Seabrook's out too and he's a pretty good player for them. This series didn't really ... I don't think it had a big momentum swing. It was still real close games, but the result is the result. We can talk about one play here, one play there. When it was on our stick, we need to get the job done and we didn't get the job done and we're going home early.

"It's an 82-game season, you're going to have injuries. We were really healthy most of the year. A little banged up at the end, but if you're in that (Chicago) locker room, I'm sure they got guys banged up, too, and it's us as a group with whatever ailments we're dealing with. ... They got the job done, we didn't. We're going home."

Ryan Miller, who finished with a 2.70 goals-against average and .897 save percentage in the playoffs, was brought in to be the last piece to the puzzle in an extended, and perhaps Stanley Cup run, and although sole blame is hardly the way to go when it comes to Miller with the Blues' inability to score, but he was hardly a consistent difference maker. Miller had his moments, particularly in Game 1 during the overtime periods but he was also prone to the soft goal as well.

"We just didn’t get on to playing the right way overall," Miller said of the recent weeks' play. "Maybe it caught up to us a little bit.

"I'll have to sit down and think about (Miller's play). I don't know, not good enough I guess."

Miller, a pending unrestricted free agent, was asked about his immediate plans.

"I don’t know," Miller said. "We'll just have to take them as they come right now. I guess I'm free to go to my sister-in-law's wedding, so that's about it."

Count Backes as one of those who defended Miller's play.

"He works his butt off," Backes said. "He's the consummate professional. A guy that you love having on your team. Some of the plays, tips in front and things like that, I don't think it matters who's in net. They made some good plays. They were blocking our shots, were trying similar plays or finding ways to get in lanes or denying opportunities ... he did more than his share and we need to do more in front of him. 

"We're going to win as a team, lose as a team. We all need to look in the mirror and assess how we did and what we didn't do. No offense to you guys, but these interviews are getting a little sickening to have in April and not in June."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was non-committal when asked about Miller's future with the team.

"I don't get into the long-term stuff," he said. "That's Doug (Armstrong's) department. 

"He played good for us. I'm sure there are some goals that he'd like to have back, just like any goalie would. But this is we win as a team, we lose as a team. My God, we gave up a breakaway for the third goal and we got seamed on the second goal (Sunday). That's not the goalies fault. Those are big errors. For this time to move the game along those are big errors we just can't make. We had to play close to perfection. We missed so many scoring chances, just us and the goalie. You kind of had the feeling in the back of your head that I hope this doesn't come back and haunt us, all these power plays that we've earned, and then not score on. We didn't get a lead and it allowed them to keep playing."

It's early, but Miller expressed his desire to come back.

"Yeah. We're through with the hockey part now, I'll have to see where were at, see how they feel about me," Miller said. "I definitely like St. Louis, I like the guys, I like the team. We'll see what they feel about the playoffs."

Now that the Blues have more questions to answer, someone must be held accountable.

"That's an Army question," Hitchcock said. "I'm more concerned with what we poured into this series. We poured a lot into it. I mean this was six games and it felt like nine games for both teams. I'm sure Joel (Quenneville) feels the same way. It was a long, hard-fought series and both teams poured a lot into it. The damn bust here at the end (of Game 6), but I don't know, that's stuff for Doug. I'm not going to get into it."

Backes would.

"I don't know how you're going to assess that accountability, but we needed to be a little bit better than they were and we didn't get the job done," he said. "I'll take more than my share of the blame. I didn't produce. I'm counted on to produce. I'll shoulder that and think about it a lot this summer and hopefully drive the engine going into next year."

Whoever else will be part of the engine, that will be up to Armstrong and Co. to answer.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Goalie Ryan Miller, an unrestricted free agent in July, expressed his desire
to come back to St. Louis. The question is will he be back.

"That threshold seems to be ... it's not real thin in the Central (Division)," Backes said. "You're playing the defending Stanley Cup champions, you've got to bring your game every night, every shift, every period. 

"I sound like a broken record here, but we were there. We had four overtime games, won 50 percent of them and the other two games were pretty damn close going down the stretch. Finding ways to win those close games, they did it, we didn't."

"We showed a lot of strong character for what we had," said forward Steve Ott, who was part of the trade with Miller from the Buffalo Sabres. "We had a lot of stuff going on in the last few weeks or so with this team. For the guys to put their gear on every single night to battle what we’ve been battling through, we showed a lot of resiliency. Four of the six games into overtime and it could have easily went the other way against a strong hockey club.

"The core players in this dressing room, the young guys that are now leaders and the leaders that are now veteran guys ... it's a numb feeling. It's never fun when you expect to win a Cup. Let's be honest, that's what we expected out of us and (we) didn't get the job done."

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."