Saturday, May 28, 2022

Blues season comes to an end in crushing fashion

Helm scores with 5.6 remaining in regulation to give Avalanche 
3-2 win, series win, ending second-round series in six games

ST. LOUIS -- What a brutal ending.

It may have been one of the most gut-wrenching endings to a game -- and season -- in Blues history.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Goalie Ville Husso (right) makes a lunging save on a shot attempt in front
of teammate Niko Mikkola in a 3-2 loss against Colorado Friday.

With their season on the line again, the Blues were looking to duplicate what they accomplished in Game 5 in Colorado. Even as badly as they were being outplayed by the Colorado Avalanche in Game 6 at Enterprise Center on Friday, the Blues were on a one-shot game that seemed destined for overtime.


Or so they thought.

But Darren Helm -- Darren Helm? -- spoiled it all. His goal with 5.6 seconds remaining in regulation gave the Avalanche a stunning and series-clinching 3-2 win in the Western Conference second round to send Colorado to the conference final for the first time since 2002 and a date with Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

The Blues were looking to force a Game 7 on Sunday, hoping for the chance to win a series for the third time in franchise history when trailing 3-1. 

But alas, it wasn't meant to be. 

A seeing-eye shot from the left circle on what looked like a nothing play eluded the glove of goalie Ville Husso, piercing the net and piercing the hearts of the Blues, this ending their season.

It’s kind of in front of the net and (Cale) Makar made the play up and they had four guys on the rush," a dejected Blues forward Brayden Schenn said. "Got to find a way to get that one to overtime. Probably a little bit of my fault. I don’t know if that was my guy. I got to look at the replay again. But yeah, that one stinks."

That's as hard a body blow as one can take. It came in the form of a Mike Tyson full-fledged uppercut right to the stomach, and the Blues absorbed it and fell to the canvas.

Just 5.6 ticks left in their season, and no chance to try and save it now.

"I think early on up the ice, we're kind of in a set forecheck, we let their D get by us and carry the puck up the ice, created a little bit of an odd-man rush, made a play to the weak side," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "They shot it, went through some people and it went in. But up ice, we could have done a better job.

"It's tough, a tough way to end it. That's the way it goes. Our guys battled hard."

But let's face it, that play was a microcosm of the game itself. The Avalanche were playing like this was its Game 7, and to an extent, it probably was. Can you imagine if this had gone to a winner-take-all game on Sunday, a series on the brink that they were expected to win handily? All the pressure in the world would have been on them, and the Blues would have been playing with house money trying to spoil the party. 

Not so.

"Obviously the game, we had a chance to take it," Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "I thought Huus' gave us a chance, he made some huge stops, gave us a chance all game. I thought we started a little slow, which hurt us. That was kind of the feeling that we had all series at home. We didn’t play the way we needed to here, which made it difficult to win. Lost every game at home here … just very disappointing. 

"Overall, it’s a very disappointing season. I think we’re better than what we’ve shown against these guys. I thought we could’ve got that to seven, but yeah, when we lost Binner, I think there was a good chance there. It’s on myself, too, to kind of find a way to rally the group and respond the right way. Yeah, it’s disappointing."

The Avalanche, which is 5-0 on the road in the playoffs, outshot the Blues 39-20 in the game, had a territorial advantage in zone in puck possession and zone time, while the Blues -- again -- played passive and dismissive with their puck play.

Husso, who was both great and had fans shaking their heads with the final two goals allowed, getting beat again on the tying goal on the short side, did his best to keep the Blues in it with a number of clutch saves. He had to play near-perfect for the Blues to force Game 7 since the offense was pretty much anemic against a wobbly goalie at best, Darcy Kuemper.

"'Huus' gave us a chance to win," Schenn said. "Not an easy situation for him to come in the series. He found his groove.

"Just couldn’t find ways to generate enough offensively. We feel we got a good team and let that series slip. They’re a good team. You've got to hand them credit. But we feel like we got good pieces in here, too. And we challenged them a lot better than we did (last year). It’s hard to come back from 3-1. We know that. Games 3 and 4 really hurt us, and it’s tough to come back in a series like that."

"We didn't make enough plays," Berube said. "I thought we defended well. We didn't transfer the puck from defense to offense tonight. We just kind of put pucks out to the neutral zone and they did a good job of countering. They came with a lot of speed. I thought their D played extremely well tonight and carried the play for them."

Earlier in the series, after Game 1, Schenn said the Blues were just "chucking pucks" back to the Avalanche, and it led to an onslaught of wave after wave after wave of Colorado attacks.

"Well, that's a highly-skilled team over there," Berube said. "They've got a lot of offense, they got a lot of good players. I guess you could ask ... you want more from some guys maybe, but I thought we played them pretty well, I really did. I didn't like Game 1, but other than that, we were right there in all the games."

The Blues scored the first goal for the fifth time in six games in this series when Justin Faulk made it 1-0 with one minute left in the first.

Husso kept the Blues in the lead with several key saves; he faced 13 shots in each period Friday.

J.T. Compher scored the first of two goals, depth guys for the Avalanche getting the job done, when he scored off a rebound at the net at 5:19 of the second to tie it 1-1.

But the Blues scored off a 2-on-1, with Jordan Kyrou converting a Schenn pass to make it 2-1 at 9:34 following a Jack Johnson turnover. It was another lead for the Blues, that could have been increased when Kyrou inexplicably didn't shoot with Kuemper out of position on his forehand, went to the backhand and had his shot from the slot blocked by Josh Manson. Kyrou then missed a breakaway with 59 seconds left, and the Blues missed out on a chance to go up by two or three goals.

"Jordan Kyrou could have had three tonight," Berube said. "Just the way it goes. We didn't get the breaks."

With a one-goal game and 20 minutes left, there was no chance the Avalanche were sitting back like it did in Denver on Wednesday. Colorado was coming with an onslaught.

The Blues were weathering every storm imaginable until Colton Parayko, who struggled throughout, flipped an uncontested puck into the stands for a delay of game penalty at 8:19. 
The Blues had it all but killed off, but Compher tied the game with one second left on the power play, a shot from the right circle that beat Husso again high short side, which seems like his Achillies' heel, getting beat short side. The goal came at 10:18 and tied things at 2-2.

"Well, obviously the power play goal, we almost had that killed off," Berube said. "We made a little bit of a mistake in the neutral zone and gave them a free look, they score. Then again, like I said up ice, we've got to do a better job on that set forecheck."

The Blues had little to no good looks on the offensive end in the third period, so naturally, their best shot was to get this to overtime. 

And they nearly succeeded.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues defenseman Justin Faulk (72) moves the puck away from Avalanche
forward Andre Burakovsky in Game 6 on Friday at Enterprise Center.

"They’re a good skating team. Their D are mobile, active," Schenn said. "They break out the puck pretty well. Actually really well. You have to have a good forecheck when you have D like that. And that takes sustained O-zone time. And we didn’t have enough of it. We showed it in spurts, but that’s not good enough to win a series."

It surely wasn't enough to win this game, and in the end, Helm's shot was a bitter pill to swallow.

The teams shook hands at the conclusion, and the remaining crowd on hand saluted the Blues on their season.

"I don't say a lot," Berube said. "We talked, we had a great season, proud of the guys, they worked really hard, but we really came together as a team throughout the season and the playoffs, battled hard in the playoffs, beat a real good team out in Minnesota and we're right there with Colorado. It's tough to lose. You can't say much. They don't want to hear anything."

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