Saturday, April 25, 2015

Blues on brink of elimination after 4-1 loss to Wild

Minnesota scores four unanswered to take Game 5, lead best-of-7 series 3-2

ST. LOUIS -- After giving their fans reason for hope with a convincing Game 4 victory in Minnesota, the Blues had that opportunity for a third straight season on home ice to gain the upper hand in a best-of-7 series.

And with 19,653 loyal fans packed into Scottrade Center finally waiting for the Blues to assert themselves in a series, there was a dejected feeling from the faithful for a third consecutive season in this very scenario.

The Blues came out with plenty of fire and appeared to pick up where they left off in Game 4 against the Minnesota Wild, but once again, a failure to sustain quality pressure and proper execution eventually led to a disappointing 4-1 loss to the Wild in Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round series.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (middle) battles with former teammate and the
Wild's Jordan Leopold (left) for a loose puck Friday.

The Blues, who lost Game 5 at home to Los Angeles in 2013 and Chicago last season with the series tied 2-2, head on the road in a must-win situation in Game 6, where they will look to stave off elimination Sunday at 2 p.m.

It didn't go so well the past two seasons. 

On Friday, the Blues got a goal from Vladimir Tarasenko, his NHL playoff-leading sixth early in the game and instead of riding the wave of emotions and extending their lead, they gave up a clunker goal to Marco Scandella on the Wild's first shot of the game (they were outshot 8-0 to that point) 11 minutes, 6 seconds into the game. From there, it was downhill.

Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu scored goals 1:26 apart late in the second period to break a 1-1 tie, and Charlie Coyle added a third-period goal to seal the Blues' fate.

But the goal by Scandella, a slap shot from just inside the left circle, caromed off Jake Allen's glove and popped in. The bubble burst inside the building, and the Blues could not solve Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk moving forward.

"I don't know that it fell apart. I think they were opportunistic," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "First period until they scored their goal, that was the best we've played in the whole series. Played great. We kind of flattened out a little bit when they scored the goal and had all those chances in the second and missed those four chances there.

"... We were playing so well. We just looked like it was a continuation of the last game, but I thought the air went out of the bag a little bit when they scored their first goal and we've got to probably look to respond a little bit different than that. We could have probably picked up Jake a little bit on that one. I thought we got a little bit flat."

Center Steve Ott said there was a chance to extend the lead.

"There is," he said. "We have to stay with the process. We cracked at times, gave up, obviously a goal that we probably, collectively, we could have been better with and when you do that, those are the lulls we gotta clean up and we do so, we keep pushing pucks further ahead, keep a north, hard, grind game that we play and that's the way we have success."

Allen, who allowed four goals on 19 shots, said the momentum didn't change too much following the Scandella goal, but as far as allowing it?

"That should never go in," he said.

The Blues then got somewhat complacent and gave up 13 of Minnesota's 19 shots in the second period.

But the Blues' biggest missed opportunities came off chances to beat Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, who rebounded to stop 36 shots after allowing six goals on 17 shots in Game 4.

Alexander Steen had the two best chances. Dubnyk stopped Steen with his right pad on one early in the period, then again midway through while sprawled on the ice.

"The first one, I feel like I picked my spot pretty good, but he gets a little piece on the blocker and then it hits his pad," Steen said. "The second one, coming around the net like that, it's a tough angle," Steen said. "He kind of slid over, so I wanted to make sure I got it up. Desperation play, got a little piece of that one too."

And when the Wild began to gain traction because of the Blues playing too passive in the second period, Niederreiter scored with 5:04 left after former Blue Chris Stewart thrwarted off Zbynek Michalek and found Niederreiter in the slot for a quick one-timer after the Blues were whistled for an icing and lost the faceoff.

"We made a mistake on the second goal; we didn't get the puck deep," Hitchcock said. "They got a faceoff and the d-man lost his stick. Jake didn't pick it up. That was kind of the turning point a little bit."

Then with Kevin Shattenkirk off for interference, Koivu scored what Hitchcock called a "fluke" goal when Koivu's centering feed glanced off the skate of Jay Bouwmeester and off Allen's paddle with 3:38 remaining in the second.

"The third goal's a fluke goal; what are you going to do," Hitchcock said.

Allen appeared to be the one being screened Friday.

"It doesn’t matter," Allen said. "I should have stopped them. Not good enough on my part."

And predictably, the Wild clogged the middle of the ice, didn't give the Blues too many interior scoring opportunities despite being outshot 19-3. However, Charlie Coyle scored with 5:10 remaining to make it 4-1.

"We kept coming," Hitchcock said. "I don't know, what'd we have 19, 20 shots on goal? We get one early when we have all the chances, who knows. Game on, but it's natural to sit back a little bit. We were in their zone for most of the period.

"But so many good things. We did so many good things today. We had a little bit of a lull. I didn't think we responded as hard as we could have maybe when they scored the first goal. That gave them a little bit of wind, but just did so many good things. You're disappointed for the guys. We'll rebound and get ready for the next game. If we bring a lot of the good things we did today into the next game, we've got a third game in a row to build on."

Ott added: "I think we had some lulls in our game, obviously, that took over. Our second period probably wasn't our best, but overall, first period we gave up three shots and that third period we gave up three shots. Moving forward, I think that's the way we have to play and if we play that way we're going to be hard to play against, but we have to find a way to score goals as well."

When teams are tied 2-2 in a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoffs series, the winner of Game 5 holds an all-time series record of 185-50, or 78.7 percent.

The Blues don't have history on their side, but they have trailed a series 3-2 20 times and have brought it to a Game 7 nine times.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko scores against Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (middle) 
that gave the Blues a 1-0 lead. Minnesota came back to win 4-1.

"I feel like we've played two games pretty well," Hitchcock said. "We've got to play a third game to get it back here. We want to really bring it back for Game 7. We're going to have to play a really good game, but we've got two good games now we can build on. ... Look, we've got to score more. We've got to finish on these chances that we get. You can't three, four chances in the second period in a series where their goalie's playing really well; you can't get those chances and not finish them and expect to win and you're not going to win a lot of games scoring one goal. You're going to have to find ways to finish off those great opportunities because it was just us and the goalie three or four times there in the second period. Gotta find a way to finish those."

"Win the next game," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've still got two hockey games to play. We're not going to hang our heads here, we know we've got to play better. We'll take a hard look at ourselves tomorrow and get ready for Game 6."

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