Plenty of blame to go around: Blues fail in playoffs again

News-DemocratMay 11, 2013 

Admit it, Blues fans. You've been down this road before.

If you're in St. Louis, the NHL playoffs don't end with a Stanley Cup parade. Instead, the postseason ritual includes vast promise followed by intense disappointment and another season of "wait 'til next year."

If that sounds a bit like hockey's version of the Chicago Cubs, you're not too far off the mark. But while the Cubs haven't won a championship since 1908, the Blues have only been going Cup-less since they're inaugural season in 1967-68.

After taking a 2-0 series lead on the defending Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings, the Blues watched Darryl Sutter's squad roar back to win four in a row to advance.

And of course, the Blues are incapable of losing the elimination game in some type of routine fashion or on a breakaway with a shooter cleanly beating the goaltender. Instead, the Blues managed to allow an agonizing goal on Dustin Penner's long blast from the left point with 0.2 seconds remaining in the second period. That goal, which deflected off the stick of Blues defenseman Roman Polak near the top of the faceoff circle and changed directions on goalie Brian Elliott, ended up being the eliminator.

The Blues failed to clear the puck, failed to get anyone near Penner and then failed to keep the puck out of the net. Instead of heading into the third period tied, they got kicked in the gut by a hungrier team.

The Blues still had chances at the equalizer. Patrik Berglund was unable to lift the puck over Kings goalie Jonathan Quick after breaking in alone in the third period and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester fired a shot off the crossbar.

On Twitter and other social media sites, Blues fans immediately began trying to find a scapegoat for losing yet another playoff series. When you've won only one playoff series in 11 years, there is plenty of blame to go around.

While Elliott gave up some untimely goals in the series, he still allowed only 12 in six games for a 1.90 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.

Quick, who led the Kings to the championship a year ago and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, was simply a little better as would be expected given his postseason pedigree. He allowed 10 goals, had a 1.58 goals-against average and .944 save percentage.

Elliott did not lose this series. According to the NHL, the teams were either tied or separated by one goal an incredible 98.8 percent of the time during the six games. The Blues had the only two-goal lead of the series -- and that lasted only 5 minutes, 1 second in Game 4 before the Kings came back to win 4-3.

This was a team effort.

While General Manager Doug Armstrong has made some deals in his relatively short tenure with the Blues, most notably adding Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and Jaroslav Halak in trades, there still is no elite scorer on the roster.

They aren't easy to come by, either. But whether the Blues have to develop one, sign one or trade for one, they need someone who at least resembles one. Same thing with a playmaking center.

Being unable to finish scoring chances bit the Blues continuously throughout the series. They fired 177 shots at Quick and he stopped 167 of them. But the Blues missed the net entirely 21 times in Game 6, 24 times in Game 1 and an almost surreal 101 times in the series. Alex Steen had three of the Blues' 10 goals and T.J. Oshie scored two more (in the same game), giving two players half the team's total.

Stewart, the team's regular-season scoring leader, had one assist and 17 shots without a goal. Linemate Andy McDonald failed to register a goal or assist. Blues captain David Backes had 19 shots and one goal and was on the ice for the overtime game-winner in Game 5 and the game-winner in Game 6. So were several other Blues, the point being that winning is a team effort and so is losing.

Armstrong said before the season that this team's nucleus would determine how far the Blues would go. Despite the addition of Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold, who aided the late-season stretch run on the defensive end, the Blues could not generate enough offense to get it done.

The nucleus is in definite need of an adjustment or three, but there is hope for the future.

Rookie Jaden Schwartz put together a strong playoff run, as did the "CPR Line" of Ryan Reaves, Chris Porter and Adam Cracknell.

In search of more scoring, the Blues have several top-level youngsters like Vladimir Tarasenko, Schwartz, Dmitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie.

But for Blues fans, it's time to shave off the playoff beards, take the chicken wing-sauce stained jerseys to the dry cleaners and think about what could have been while watching someone else hoist the Stanley Cup. It's what Blues fans have been doing during the playoffs since they first stepped on the ice. Whether they lose in the first, second or third round or even the finals as they did in 1968, 1969 and 1970, the song remains the same.

Reporter Norm Sanders has covered the Blues for the News-Democrat since 1995. He can be reached at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders.

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