Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Blues fail to clinch, lose 3-2 in Game 6 against Stars

Early-game woes see St. Louis fall behind by three 
goals before storming back, only to fall short; Elliott pulled

ST. LOUIS -- Instead of thriving off of 19,808 ready to blow the roof off Scottrade Center in another series-clinchng scenario, the Blues gave the Dallas Stars enough life to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference Second Round.

Instead of feasting on home ice, the Blues floundered again. They were shell-shocked when the Stars scored three times in the first 17 minutes, including two goals in 20 seconds before holding off the Blues' furious final 40 minutes for a 3-2 victory in Game 6.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' David Backes (left) can't get a puck past Stars goalie Kari
Lehtonen Monday in Game 6. The Stars won 3-2 to force a Game 7.

The Blues, who now must win a Game 7 in Dallas on Wednesday (7 p.m.), threw the kitchen sink, the refrigerator, the living room furniture and the bedroom set towards Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen and at Lehtonen, who had to be brilliant, particularly on Jaden Schwartz with 22 seconds remaining in the slot off a feed from David Backes with a sixth attacker.

The Blues' Corsi numbers were so ridiculous (75-25), it was a no-brainer that the Stars had such little zone time. But the Blues, who outshot the Stars 37-14 for the game, missed the net 19 times and had another 19 shots blocked.

"I don't like giving the other goalie credit for anything, other than he wears pads, that's it," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We can shoot better, we can do some things better offensively. Obviously you don't like to see as many shots blocked as we did, or missed the net. 

"I'm more concerned with the missing the net because we had nine scoring chances in the second period, but five of them missed the net. You're going to get that type of chances, you're going to get that type of chances, you've got to at least hit the net. So I think the shots blocked, the way they defend, you're going to get those things. But it's the ones we missed the net on that probably concern a little bit."

Alexander Steen scored for the Blues in the second period, a period the Blues had to come away feeling there was more to be had, and Patrik Berglund gave the building life when he scored with 11 minutes 1 second remaining in the game but there would be no more.

"I think that was the best part that we gave ourselves a chance," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We didn't hang our heads after that first period. We went out there and tried to change the game. A lot of guys changed the game and just got back at it. That's what we do well is respond. Ready to respond after the first period."

But it was the first period that was the poisonous pill for the Blues to swallow.

Some of the players claimed bad bounces, which in one sense was the case, but some poor, sloppy execution and plays put them in the deficit they were in.

And it saw Hitchcock make a goalie switch, removing Brian Elliott, who has been brilliant throughout the playoffs and much of the season, in favor of Jake Allen after Dallas went ahead 3-0 on only seven shots.

Mattias Janmark put the Stars up 1-0 after Blues defenseman Colton Parayko had his dump-in attempt blocked by Janmark himself. Valeri Nichushkin sent Janmark in transition on a semi-breakaway and he beat Elliott with a wrist shot high glove side from the left circle at 4:53. 

The raucous crowd got quiet quick.

They went into stunned silence when Vernon Fiddler scored on his 36th birthday after Elliott failed to clear the puck. The Stars kept the play alive and Fiddler redirected Colton Sceviour's centering pass from the crease at 5:13 to make it 2-0. 

"We had five minutes of shock," Hitchcock said. "We had a great start to the game. Once we got through the shock, we really played well."

The Blues had an opportunity for a shorthanded breakaway, but defenseman Alex Pietrangelo's attempted pass to Kyle Brodziak was broken up by Stars defenseman John Klingberg, who fed Jason Spezza. Spezza was able to get into the slot after Jay Bouwmeester fell down, and Spezza maneuvered around Scottie Upshall and beat Elliott with a wrist shot short side at 16:49 to make it 3-0. 

"I think the goal that hurt us the most was the third goal," Hitchcock said. "We've been down 2-0 a million times this year. Third goal was one that hurt us because we're looking to go on a breakaway and next thing you know, it's a fluke goal that ends up in our net ... and ends up being the winning goal."

Allen would only see seven shots the rest of the way, but the Blues were not absolving themselves for leaving Elliott out to dry.

"Yeah, that's on us," Shattenkirk said. "It's not his fault that's for darn sure. We have to play better in front of him for what he's done for us all series. He deserves better and we'll give him better." 

The Blues made their push in the second period, outshooting the Stars 14-5 and scoring the only goal. 

Steen scored off a rebound of Robert Bortuzzo's shot at 7:29 to make it 3-1, but St. Louis had numerous opportunities after owning zone time in the period but failed to capitalize.

"We were trying, but it was too big of a hole today," Steen said. "We made an attempt, we played well after we gave up the third one and started focusing on just gaining momentum and territory bit by bit."

"We can shoot better, we can do some things better offensively obviously," Hitchcock said. "You don't like to see as many shots blocked as we did or miss the net. I'm more concerned about missing the net because we had nine scoring chances in the second period but five of them missed the net. ... It's the ones we missed the net on that probably are concerning a little bit."

Hitchcock made one switch and flipped Steen and Jori Lehtera, moving Steen up to center Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, and putting Lehtera with Backes and Berglund.

"Way more offense, we got it," Hitchcock said. "We needed more penetration, we needed more puck control, we needed more determination in the offensive zone. I thought both lines played way better. Lehtera looked comfortable playing with 'Bergie' and Backes. And I thought Steen looked comfortable playing with the two kids." 

Berglund made it 3-2 at 8:49 of the third period when he took Lehtera's behind-the-back pass in the slot and shot it past Lehtonen.

"We stepped it up, we played easier, we started shooting the puck," Berglund said. "We were doing all those good things you have to do. Obviously we got some energy, but it was too late today."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Patrik Berglund (21) scored for the Blues in the third period. He's being
defended here by Stars forward Mattias Janmark on Monday in Game 6.

But now the Blues, who own a Game 7 win against Chicago in the first round, have to win a Game 7 on the road. They last did that in 1999 at Phoenix (a 1-0 overtime win behind Pierre Turgeon's goal and shutout by Grant Fuhr).

"Game 7 is on the road, that's an advantage for the home team usually," Hitchcock said. "We've got to take that advantage away right away. But the way we compete, we're going to compete. We're going to compete like hell. There's no question we're going to do that. But one hockey game, look at today. One hockey game, play our butts off, two periods just throw everything at them, and you still don't win. That's ice hockey, especially at this time of year. But I know one thing: We're going to come and we're going to come after them, big time."

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