While this is the St. Louis Blues’ furthest playoff advancement since 2001, the path to the Western Conference Final hasn’t exactly been a smooth one.
Each time the Blues have a chance to stay on the smooth interstate postseason highway with what feels to be an emotional victory, they have tended to veer off-course. Their playoff vehicle heads for a bumpy off-road adventure full of tree roots, stumps and jagged rocks.
Since the playoff opener, which they won, the Blues are 1-5 when leading a playoff series against Chicago, Dallas and San Jose. They beat the Blackhawks and Stars in Game 7’s, but seem fortunate to be tied 1-1 in the conference final series with San Jose given their inconsistent performances in the first two games.
In their nine playoffs games on home ice the Blues are 4-5, yet they are 5-2 on the road. That home-ice trend can’t continue if the Blues hope to make their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1970.
“We’ve seen this at home for a while,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said following a 4-0 loss to the Sharks in Game 2 on Tuesday that was the team’s worst loss in the playoffs. “I’m not sure why. Not sure the players even know why. We seem to want to play a little different at home than we do on the road.
“We got away with it in Game 1 and didn’t get away with it (Tuesday) at all. They were much better than us probably in every aspect, especially on special teams.”
We’ve seen this at home for a while. I’m not sure why. Not sure the players even know why. We seem to want to play a little different at home than we do on the road.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock
The Sharks could be leading the best-of-seven series 2-0 had it not been for a stellar performance by Blues goalie Brian Elliott in Game 1.
What went wrong for the Blues in Game 2? Plenty.
There were a series of undisciplined penalties by Blues veterans that gave the Sharks’ potent power-play a chance to regain some traction following an 0-for-3 performance in Game 1. The Sharks were 2-for-5 on the power play thanks to a pair of goals from defenseman Brent Burns.
“We gave them too many opportunities,” Blues forward Scottie Upshall said. “We reacted, we didn’t initiate from a penalty-kill standpoint. Our kills are done well when we’re moving our feet, communicating well and they moved it around well.
“We weren’t surprised by anything, but we can all be better, for sure.”
The Blues also were 0-for-6 on the power play, had trouble getting the puck out of their own zone and struggled to get on the attack against the Sharks all night.
Frustration and undisciplined were the two most frequently mentioned words in postseason game interviews with Blues players.
“We’ve got to park this one like we’ve parked every other one in the playoffs and come into San Jose and win a road game,” Blues captain David Backes said. “That’s our focus now. We’ve done a good job of turning the page in the past and we’ll do the same thing here. We need to get our focus back to play our game.
“When we do that, we love the result.”
We’ve got to park this one like we’ve parked every other one in the playoffs and come into San Jose and win a road game.
Blues forward David Backes
The Blues will need to be better, yet they have played some of their best postseason games on the road.
Remember the dominant 6-1 win over the Stars to in Game 7 to clinch the series? The 4-1 win in Dallas? The back-to-back one-goal wins over Chicago In Games 3 and 4?
All on the road.
As good as the Blues have been on the road, they are traveling into a definitely hostile environment in San Jose’s SAP Arena, better known as the Shark Tank.
San Jose is 5-1 at home in the playoffs and has won its last five postseason home games.
Through games of Tuesday, road teams were 37-39 in the NHL playoffs. A year ago they were 38-51.
Despite the recent success in terms of wins, Jaden Schwartz has no goals in his last 11 games, though he does have seven assists during that span. Jori Lehtera has one goal in the last eight games and Alexander Steen has one goal in his last six games.
New dad Vladimir Tarasenko has one goal in his last five games.
Tarasenko and Backes are tied with rookie Robby Fabbri for the playoff scoring lead with 13 points in 16 games, while Schwartz has 12 points and Shattenkirk has 11.
If Hitchcock contemplates lineup changes, expect him to take a look at placing Steen with Tarasenko and Schwartz and replacing fourth-line winger Steve Ott with Dmitrij Jaskin or Ryan Reaves. As he did earlier in the playoffs, Hitchcock could also replace rookie defenseman Joel Edmundson with Robert Bortuzzo.
The Sharks have the top scorer in the playoffs in Logan Couture, who has seven goals and franchise-record 19 points in 14 games.
Burns already has six playoff goals, including two against the Blues in Game 2. Joe Pavelski’s nine playoff goals lead the NHL, as do goaltender Martin Jones’ nine victories.
In fact, the Sharks have the top three scorers in the playoffs in Couture, Burns (six goals, 18 points) and Pavelski (nine goals, 15 points). Burns’ goals and points totals are both Sharks playoff records by a defenseman.
Another thing missing for the Blues in Game 2 was their trademark physical brand of forechecking that allows them to hem opposing teams in their own zone while creating scoring chances.
“We’ll learn from this,” Backes said. “We know we have better and we know we have to bring more. Now it’s up to us to bring that.”