Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blues playoff hopes grim after loss to Avs

Colorado's 5-3 win gives it season sweep of St. Louis,
seven points out of eighth with 13 games remaining

ST. LOUIS -- If the Blues weren't on life support before, they sure as heck are now.

A season ago, they were winning games in bunches and teams around them that were also fighting for a playoff berth were sitting there waiting for the Blues to catch and eventually pass them.

That's not happening this season, even though the Blues are doing their fair share of winning (7-3 in the last 10), but they've now lost two in a row and such modest losing streak at this time of the season is not conducive to the cause at hand. And when the teams around you are not falling but climbing, it makes the dubious task all the more difficult.

There are a number of reasons the Blues can look back on why they didn't make the playoffs -- if they in fact don't, and it's looking more and more like they won't -- but right up there is the inability to do damage against the Colorado Avalanche, who won all four meetings with the Blues for the first time since 2005-06 after disposing of the Blues 5-3 Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (32-28-9) can also point to a putrid home record (12-17-5) that is the worst in the NHL as another primary reason for failure.

Despite past indiscretions, the Blues did everything but throw the kitchen sink at Colorado (40-23-6) on this night. Despite some coverage mistakes that once again cost the Blues two precious points, there were ample opportunities to gain points against a team that had its way with the Blues.

"We had the right amount of opportunities, right amount of traffic and pucks going to the net from the blue line," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "Eventually, you'd think the dam will crack, but it didn't. They blocked enough, their goaltender made enough saves, they cleared out enough plays that kept us off the board until obviously (Chris) Stewart's goal."

The Blues threw 39 pucks at Avs goalie Peter Budaj and they tied a franchise record for quickest goal to start a game when Alex Steen scored eight seconds into the game.

But they also hit three posts, had a goal disallowed that obviously should have counted and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo missed a wide open net after a great feed from David Perron.

"I thought the first period, call it an even effort, but from the second period on, I thought the things that we wanted to do and the intensity we wanted to play with were there," Payne said. "We had the scoring chances. We gave up a few, but the energy and intensity to put that kind of effort and end up with nothing in your hands at this time of year, it stings."

After Steen had given the Blues the quick lead, on a goal that he threw on goal that Budaj stopped but threw the rebound into the slot and caromed off teammate T.J. Galiardi, Colorado led 2-1 after one period on goals by Peter Mueller and Milan Hejduk 3 minutes, 1 second apart late in the first.

Patrik Berglund, who has at least a point in eight of the last nine games, scored 34 seconds into the second to tie the game with a power play goal -- his eighth point in those nine games.

That's when the turning point to the game occurred, and it cost the Blues big time.

Keith Tkachuk scored to give the Blues a 3-2 lead 5:55 into the second, or so he thought.

But the goal was waved off when referee Dan O'Rourke -- how ironic it was an Irishman on the eve of St. Patrick's Day -- said that Blues' enforcer D.J. King was in the crease and interfered with Budaj's ability with getting across the net to make the stop.

But replays showed that King, albeit in the crease for a moment, reestablished his position outside the crease well before the puck was shot.

It was obviously a turning point because just over a minute later -- at 7:14 as a matter of fact -- Colorado and St. Louis native Paul Stastny scored to make it 3-2. The Avs would get another from Mueller at 8:43 and go up by two instead of likely being down by one after the questionable disallowed goal.

"It was obviously huge," Payne said. "Tough to overcome, we didn't overcome it. ... It was a key turning point in the game. Although Kinger got in there for a brief period but was back out when Budaj pushes over to the wrong side of the net, he really pushed himself over to find the puck and left the net empty. Not only that, but even in the next shift, we had a lot of zone time, we had a lot of scoring chances in front of the net and then all of the sudden, the transition and we're down 3-2 instead of up 3-2. It was a tough turn for us, no question.

"The explanation was D.J. prevented (Budaj) from getting over to make the save. By our account, it looked like (Budaj) actually moved over trying to find the puck to the wrong side and left that side of the net open where the puck was. Regardless of explanations, no goal. Instead of up, we're down."

But the Blues pushed and pushed forward and got within one on Perron's 18th of the season at 11:06 of the second to make it 4-3. They came within an eyelash of tying the game, but Jay McClement rung a shot off the right post 20 seconds after Perron's goal.

Bad timing or bad luck, the Blues got a heavy of it all.

"I think the guys really wanted to get back into this game," Perron said. "... I think it's just about us. I think it's more about us not playing our game. They're a really good team, let's not kid ourselves. But if we played more of our game, we would have had better success against them."

Perron did his best to get the Blues back to even keel, and saucered a beautiful pass to Colaiacovo with 4:27 to play in the second, but the Blues defenseman -- with an ocean to shoot at -- fired a puck off the side of the net.

The Blues, who outshot the Avs 30-14 over the final two periods, could not solve Budaj in the third period after firing wave after wave of shots.

Then Stewart, a Blues killer all season, iced the win for the Avs when he converted a 3-on-2 break, beating Blues goalie Chris Mason on the short side with 2:46 to play.

* NOTES -- Steen's goal tied the previous mark set by Greg Paslawski on Oct. 29, 1985 against the Washington Capitals. ... Blues forward Paul Kariya still is one goal shy of 400 for his career. He had a golden opportunity in the third period on a shot from the slot that Budaj stopped. ... Stewart finished the season with seven goals and four assists in the four games against the Blues. ... After entering the season 6-3-0 for his career against the Avalanche, Mason went 0-4 with a 6.43 goals-against average this season.

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