Thursday, April 5, 2018

Blues suffer epic meltdown in 4-3 loss to Blackhawks, take playoff hit

Chicago rallies in third period, gets Keith goal with 8.5 seconds 
remaining to stun St. Louis, leave Blues one point out of wild-card race

ST. LOUIS -- How does one move past what happened Wednesday?

When it comes to the Blues, is this wasn't the final nail in the coffin of their failing playoff hopes and against your fiercest rivals, it sure felt like it.

A gut punch. Choking another game away. Call it what you want, the Blues failed miserably in arguably the biggest game of the season, a game in which they had no business losing but somehow found a way to do just that when Duncan Keith scored a power-play goal with 8.5 seconds remaining of a 4-3 loss to the Blackhawks on Wednesday at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Brayden Schenn (right) battles with Blackhawks left wing
Patrick Sharp for a loose puck on Wednesday at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (43-31-6) led a game 3-1 in the second period -- and probably should have led 6-0 at the time -- but poor execution from the skaters on the ice and poor goaltending from Jake Allen now leaves the Blues still -- STILL -- one point behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild-card in the Western Conference.

And even though they left Chicago (33-37-10) in the game but still held a third-period lead, the Blues played so passive, so soft and left the door open for the Blackhawks to beat the Blues for the first time in regulation while holding a lead after two periods (31-1-2).

"I think it was probably a lot of us, nervous," said Blues center Brayden Schenn, who had a goal and an assist along with Vladimir Tarasenko tonight. "You want to win so bad obviously and come away with two points, you start overthinking things and you stop moving your feet and that's what we did there for a little bit and it just got away from us."

How does this happen?

How can this possibly happen in Game No. 80 with your playoff lives at stake?

And even after a 4-2 loss to Washington -- another team the Blues played with nothing to play for -- coach Mike Yeo spoke of players embracing the challenge and grabbing the big prize.

"Nerves and bad decisions," Yeo said. "A combination maybe of both. But I felt that we were a little bit tight in the third period. We weren't as aggressive as far as our checking game. But the puck decisions that we made were very poor. And just let them ramp it up and let them get momentum, and obviously the more that we did that the more it put us on our heels."

Again, how can this happen? It's simply mind-boggling.

"It's tough, it's tough to take right now," said Allen, who made 22 saves but gave up multiple shaky goals. "We were in a good spot. We didn't play good. We played terrible in the third, from myself out. Not good enough. It's unacceptable, especially at home ... against a team that really has nothing to play for except beat us out. It's tough to take right now."

Things were going so well for the Blues early. They peppered J-F Berube -- who came in with a robust 3.93 goals-against average and .891 save percentage -- for 29 shots through two periods. 

When Schenn and Tarasenko scored 47 seconds into the second period and at 5:44 to take a 3-1 lead, it appeared very likely the Blues would pile it on, win going away and put the pressure on the Avalanche to try and regain the edge when they play Thursday night in San Jose.

But then the power play, as awful as it's been all season long, that wound up being the Achilles' heel for the Blues again, led to a shorthanded goal by Blake Hillman -- THE Blake Hillman, playing in his second NHL game -- at 10:12 to make it a 3-2 game and open that door up for failure.

And it was moments before that, Ivan Barbashev had the fourth goal on his stick but couldn't lift it over Berube's right pad, and Vladimir Sobotka, who was stopped on a 2-on-1 earlier in the period, couldn't knock in the rebound, but the shorthanded goal was ultimately the beginning of the end.

"Well, maybe. You could point to a couple of areas but still again, you have to be stronger than that," Yeo said. "We took a 3-2 lead going into the third period and we didn't get the job done. We're not gonna complain about bounces or anything else, this one is on us. We weren't good enough and you don't win games this time of year, and you don't win meaningful games, you don't get into the playoffs by not playing your best. So again, we can't go in there and hope that we get a win, hope that we don't lose, whatever the case is."

The first Blackhawks goal, scored by one Andreas Martinsen -- THE Andreas Martinsen, who has played all of seven games with the Blackhawks and an Avalanche castoff -- one shot Allen definitely saved, but not after a series of gaffes by Dmitrij Jaskin that led to it.

Robert Bortuzzo had given the Blues a 1-0 lead at 4:16, but Jaskin's failure to clear a puck along the right wall, one of several times the Blues fumbled and bumbled pucks in efforts to clear, led to Martinsen's chance. What made it worse for Jaskin was his coasting back into the zone and a lack of effort to try and at least help break up a play. Martinsen got a shot in the slot that somehow went through Allen at 8:57 to tie the game 1-1.

"It just went in," Allen said.

OK, yes, it went in. 

Schenn scored on a rebound of Vince Dunn's shot to make it 2-1, and Tarasenko's breakaway goal pushed the Blues' momentum meter even higher and made it 3-1.

But while on the power play, Colton Parayko missed the net badly from the left point, the puck rimmed around the boards, Sobotka couldn't keep the puck in that led to a 2-on-2. Nick Schmaltz was able to get just enough room from Dunn to leave a pass for Hillman to step into a shot, and even though Sobotka saw the trailing defenseman coming, he wasn't in position to pick off the pass or disrupt the shot and Hillman stepped onto a slapper from just inside the blue line and beat Allen, who said he didn't see where the shot went in.

Now it's 3-2, but even then, the Blues had their chances to increase the lead but held a lead going into the third.

It was evident from the opening faceoff that their play began to regress. Passes were off the mark, clean zone entries were nowhere to be found, and there was no sustained offensive zone pressure again, against a goalie that had numbers the size of goalies from the old Major Indoor Soccer League.

"We just didn't play good enough third period," center Kyle Brodziak said. "We build a 3-1 lead and it seemed like from then on we didn't have our foot on the gas, we were making turnovers, letting them climb back into the game. That's what happens when you do that."

Again ... how does a team speak of not having their foot on the gas in GAME NO. 80?

But that was the case.

Alex DeBrincat scored to tie the game 3-3 at 8:30 on a shot that caromed slightly off the stick of Joel Edmundson but right under Allen's right arm. It came after an egregious turnover by rookie Tage Thompson in the offensive zone. But again, a very stoppable shot.

Now it's back to square one, and then late in the game, with Chris Butler, who is only on the team because of the lack of depth on the blue line, turning a puck over at his defensive blue line when he whiffed on a puck trying to make a pass to Schenn, he instead takes a hooking penalty on Patrick Sharp, who got off a pair of shots that Allen had to make saves on, but the Blues had to kill that off to salvage a point and play for the second one in overtime.

Keith would say no when his one-timer from the top of the blue line got past Allen with 8.5 seconds left leaving the 18,935 in stunned fashion.

"I should have stopped that one," Allen said. "I should have stopped it. I let the boys down."

And with two games left, back-to-back road games in Chicago on Friday and Colorado on Saturday, depending on what the Avalanche do against the Sharks tonight, the Blues are pretty much in a win-two situation.

But how is that possible after Wednesday's epic collapse?
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Oskar Sundqvist (70) tries to block a shot of Chicago's Dylan
Sikura during action Wednesday at Scottrade Center.

"You forget about it," Brodziak said. "We know that we have to win the next two games and that's the bottom line. We want to get in the playoffs and we need two wins. It starts with next game and that's where all our focus has to go into. Obviously tonight is probably as disappointing as it gets. We've got to move past it."

Can the Blues regroup?

"That's what we're gonna have to find out," Yeo said. "Again, making the playoffs and give the group that's been here a long time, the guys that have been here. Guys that have come and gone. And obviously we got some new guys coming into this group. This team has made the playoffs six years in a row, but this is a new group, this is a new challenge. But making the playoffs, it's hard because first off it's tiring, mentally it's tiring, you have to pay a price physically. But mentally you have to find a way to be strong and competitive and be at your best in big games, and obviously the biggest games of the year are our next two ones."

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