ST. LOUIS — Utilizing a patchwork lineup minus eight regulars Sunday, the St. Louis Blues lost their sixth straight game as they fell 3-0 to the Detroit Red Wings.
Not long after contending for first overall in the NHL standings and a near-lock to win the Central Division title, the Blues finished the regular season with neither.
They were shut out 3-0 in each of their final two games, outscored 22-5 during the six-game losing streak and have gone 143 minutes, 59 seconds without scoring a goal (217:21 at even strength).
The loss put the Blues (52-23-7; 111 points) in a first-round playoff series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks (46-21-15, 107 points), with Game 1 set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Scottrade Center.
Ironically, the Blues' late-season slide began with a 4-0 loss March 19 at Chicago. Coach Ken Hitchcock's club won just five of their final 14 games to close out the season.
They also were shut out seven times in the final 25 games and are in the midst of their first six-game losing streak in regulation since January, 2006.
"I sat here three weeks ago and said momentum means everything," Hitchcock said. "I knew we had our foot off the gas a little bit, so momentum was important. Goals were out there, and we just saw what happens when we take the foot off the gas just a little bit."
Add in injuries to so many key players and the Blues' downward spiral took its toll --or as Hitchcock called it, a "vortex."
"Other teams can play at 75 or 70 percent and still win," he said. "We've got to be close to red-lining to win and we've been doing that all year. When we took our foot off the gas, this is what happened so my job is to find a way to get the foot back on the gas again."
The Blues-Blackhawks series would likely begin Thursday in St. Louis because of a Miley Cyrus concert scheduled for Wednesday at Scottrade Center.
"Their skill level will get our attention right away," said Hitchcock.. "I don't think either team anticipated this -- and I don't think either team really loves playing each other, which should make for a hell of a series."
Blues goalie Ryan Miller has allowed 18 goals while losing five straight decisions.
After an early goal was disallowed, the Red Wings took command Sunday.
They did it while resting starting goalie Jimmy Howard and top-line regulars Daniel Alfredsson, Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall.
Red Wings backup goalie Petr Mrazek collected his third career win and second career shutout by stopping 23 shots.
A shot from the left point by defenseman Brian Lashoff was deflected in by Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader at the 13:30 mark of the opening period.
An earlier goal by Detroit's Tomas Tatar was wiped out on a goaltender interference penalty against Joakim Andersson. Andersson hooked the Blues goalie, drawing the whistle.
After the Blues failed to score on 3-on-1 and 3-on-2 opportunities against Mrazek, Detroit pushed its lead to 2-0 on a goal by Riley Sheahan.
The Blues played without injured forwards T.J. Oshie (upper body), David Backes (foot), Patrik Berglund (upper body), Brenden Morrow (foot), Vladimir Sobotka (lower body) and Vladimir Tarasenko (hand), plus defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (undisclosed) and Barret Jackman (undisclosed).
Hitchcock said only one player in that group had a chance of playing Sunday.
"We're going to need to get our players back up and running that didn't play the last 10 days," Hitchcock said. "I can guarantee you now, everybody that's out, that was out today ... at some period of time, they're going to be in."
The most serious injuries are believed to be Morrow, Berglund and Tarasenko. Tarasenko, who has missed 15 games, has been skating while trying to return from surgery to repair a hand injury.
As the injuries mounted, the Blues were shut out three times in their final six games.
"The offense goes when you get the people that coordinated us all year back in," Hitchcock said, referring to the lineup heavy with role players and recent call-ups. "It's pretty simple. This is a perfect example of try like crazy, try hard, battle away, but you need your best players in your lineup to be going. When you start dropping guys out, it's hard to create.
"For us it's just get the players back in, get the thing coordinated, get guys back playing with people they've played with all year and see where it goes from there. It's not rocket science."