CHICAGO — A St. Louis Blues team that many felt was ready to take the next step toward a long playoff run instead found itself in a familiar position Sunday.
Packing their bags after another first-round exit.
A 5-1 loss in Game 6 to the Chicago Blackhawks left the Blues standing in the one-and-done line at the playoff store once again, unable to finish off a series that deteriorated quickly from a 2-0 lead to four straight defeats.
It happened for the second straight season as the Blues endured the same frustrating scenario last year against the Los Angeles Kings.
"We're going to win as a team, lose as a team," said Blues captain David Backes, whose team scored eight goals in back-to-back playoff wins to open the series, then could muster only six over the next four games. "We all need to look in the mirror and assess how we did and what we didn't do. No offense to you guys, but these interviews are getting a little sickening to have in April and not in June."
Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith had a goal and three assists and Chicago got goals from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp during a 77-second span early in the third period to break the game open.
"It's hard to take because I think with how far we've come and how much we've done, getting out in the first round doesn't reflect on what we've put in," Blues winger T.J. Oshie said. "And it doesn't reflect the support that we've gotten from the fans. It's hard.
"I think St. Louis deserves a Stanley Cup and this should have been the year that we gave it to them."
Andrew Sharp and Keith also had goals in the third period as the Blues dropped their eighth straight playoff game on the road.
Toews worked his way around defenseman Roman Polak before beating Blues goalie Ryan Miller just 44 seconds into the third period.
It was Toews' third game-winning goal of the series.
Just 77 seconds later, a shot by Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was blocked and Patrick Kane fed Sharp for a breakaway. Despite Shattenkirk hooking Sharp while in pursuit, Sharp still managed to get the puck past Miller.
Miller seemed to be somewhere between a poke check and trying to make a save, but the puck went under his arm.
"I was in the right spot. ... He kind of chipped it, too, in between," Miller said. "It's just too bad."
Asked about Sharp's goal, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, "I don't want to get into that either. The goal was a backbreaker. It was a backbreaker. The bench was still fine.
"Our team had great spirit at the start, great spirit through the first and second period. To play as well as we've ever played in this building was the way we played the first two periods, and then the third goal ...the air went right out of the bench."
Shaw then tipped in a shot from the point by Keith and the Blues never recovered.
After falling behind 1-0 early on a goal by Bryan Bickell, the Blues tied it on a goal by T.J. Oshie with 3:32 remaining in the first period.
The team that scored first won all six games of the series.
Alexander Steen set up Oshie in front for the tying goal, though Oshie's shot went in and out so quickly he didn't realize he had scored.
" It was one of those ones where you just kind of see a hole and fire it there," Oshie said. "It came out so quick, I didn't really see it. There was obviously no reaction from the fans, so I couldn't tell if it was in or not."
The Blues failed to score on six power plays, finishing the series 2-for-29 with the man advantage.
They nearly took the lead early in the second period when a shot deflected off of Patrik Berglund in front. Crawford managed to dive backwards to get a glove on it, then the puck rolled across the ice about an inch from the goal line without going in. Chicago's Niklas Hjalmarsson and the Blues' Vladimir Sobotka each tried to get sticks on it, but the puck wound up out of harm's way.
The Blues had nothing left to stop Chicago's third-period blitz.
The Blackhawks scored three times on 14 shots, then added a fourth goal by Keith.
While the Blues hung with the Blackhawks throughout the series, Chicago's talent came out on top.
"Close didn't get it done," Backes said. "You're playing the defending Stanley Cup champions, you've got to bring your game every night, every shift, every period.
"I sound like a broken record here, but we were there. We had four overtime games, won 50 percent of them and the other two games were pretty darn close going down the stretch. Finding ways to win those close games ... they did it, we didn't."