ST. LOUIS — While a 2-0 lead can be a good thing in the hockey playoffs, coach Ken Hitchcock believes that moment in Game 4 was when the St. Louis Blues' postseason chances began to fade against the Los Angeles Kings.
Owning what would be the only two-goal lead of the entire series, the Blues led the Kings on goals by David Backes and T.J. Oshie just 4:32 into the opening period.
"We had a 2-0 lead, (then) we had those three incidents that ended up in our net," Hitchcock said Sunday. "We got sucked in to the staring-at-the-puck track meet. The goalie (Jonathan Quick) won Game 3 and that's probably the best we played.
"But in Game 4, we messed up. We did uncharacteristic things ... got swept up in the emotions of the game. We did uncharacteristic things and they made us pay for it."
The Blues cleaned out their Scottrade Center lockers and headed for home Sunday. Hitchcock said the emotions are far too raw from the first-round defeat to meet with the players now, choosing instead to wait a few weeks before dealing with them individually.
"They won the Stanley Cup last year so they know how to win," said Blues winger David Perron of the Kings. "I think we made up a lot of ground this year in a lot of ways. We're still a team that's in a way still growing in the playoff experience.
"It's good to see that we can play with them and we had a real good series against them, but in the end they were a better team and they found a way."
Hitchcock realizes there may not be a lot of roster turnover for the Blues. What he would like to see is a 10-percent across-the-board improvement from each player, primarily focusing on the type of execution that will lead to better plays and hopefully, more scoring.
"Everybody talks about all the scoring chances we had and all this stuff," said Hitchcock, whose team missed the net 101 times in six games while also being robbed by Quick on numerous other occasions. "To me, when you write this off to a goalie beating you, I don't think you pay near enough respect to the five guys that play in front of the goalie.
"They made sacrifices and stayed competitive. That's what champions do."
Hitchcock talked about how close he felt the Blues were to knocking off the Kings, a team that swept his squad the previous year.
"We really bent them in a big way, we never even creased them last year," Hitchcock said. "We had them bent, but we didn't push them out and that's the little bit of fight for space that I'm talking about.
"Those are the scoring areas collectively we have to address with people to get better at. Execution under fire in close quarters."
Hitchcock said he and his staff plan to stress better execution in the offseason, but it will take a lot of work by the players as well.
"When you demand more from people, you either go up or down," he said. "We're going to find out because I believe it's in these players. I believe they've gone through the really tough times, they're starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.
"Whether they do it or not is going to determine whether we get to the next level."
Asked about media reports surrounding an animated discussion between himself and goaltender Jaroslav Halak before Game 4, Hitchcock downplayed the significance.
"The stuff with Jaro ... that's an everyday occurrence," Hitchcock said, referring to typical coach-player talks. "Arguments and discussions that go on with players and playing time and all that stuff that was discussed in the media today, that's the ongoing stuff. If he wasn't (ticked off) and disappointed I'd be surprised. I don't care. To me if you're under contract, you're ready to play.
"Three good goalies into two nets, who knows where that goes. Tough on the goalies, good for the coach."
Goaltender Brian Elliott was asked if he considered himself the No. 1 goalie. Elliott took charge down the stretch, setting a franchise record with 11 wins in April and starting each game in the playoffs.
"Like I say every year, if you come into the season not thinking you are, you're doing yourself a disservice," Elliott said. "You want to be the best that you can and why would you want to shoot for No. 2 or No. 3 when you've got to aim your sights high to accomplish what you want?"