For the second time in as many seasons, the St. Louis Blues are heading home for the summer after the sixth game of the Western Conference quarterfinals, despite holding a two-game lead in the series. Four different players scored goals in the third period to put the exclamation point on a 5-1 Chicago Blackhawks victory. Bryan Bickell gave Chicago a 1-0 lead in the first before St. Louis got an equalizer from T.J. Oshie. But after a stellar second period, the “Note opened the final frame flat and they paid for it in a big way. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw and Duncan Keith each lit the lamp in the decisive third period to punch the ‘Hawks’ ticket to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. Meanwhile, it was just another day in the office for Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford, who stopped 35 shots in the victory. It was a rough day for his counterpart, Ryan Miller, who allowed five goals on 27 shots in the loss.
Letting One Slip Away
It came down to twenty minutes. The Blues and Blackhawks were tied 1-1 heading into the final period of play and the ‘Note were coming off one of their best periods of the series. St. Louis out shot Chicago 17-3 in the second period, giving the ‘Note a sense of confidence heading into the final frame.
“We had a sense of calmness and an intensity and a confidence in the first two periods, but you gotta score,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We played the way we can, we didn’t have any panic in our game at all and I think the players felt really good after two periods.”
“We felt we dominated the play up to that point, our penalty kill had the opportunity to kill a penalty and give us the momentum but they got the goal there and really took a big step forward” Blues captain David Backes said after the game.
That few minutes was really all it took for Chicago to assert dominance on home ice. Jonathan Toews lit the lamp with a power play goal 44 seconds into the third and a little over a minute later Patrick Sharp gave the ‘Hawks all the insurance they would need.
“We kind of played on our heels for a few minutes”, Backes said. “We took a few chances and tried to press to create offense and they made us pay.”
The Blues bounced back after falling behind 2-1, but Sharp’s goal really deflated the team according to Hitchcock.
“It was a back breaker,” he said. “The bench was still fine, our team had great spirit. We played as well as we had ever played in the building in the first two periods, but after the third goal the air went right out of our bench”.
To their credit, the Blues continued to press, creating a number of opportunities in the offensive zone. But that didn’t come without risks as the commitment to offense left Ryan Miller over exposed on the other end of the ice. And like a good team should, the ‘Hawks capitalized with Andrew Sharp and Duncan Keith adding goals before the final whistle.
“We have to play close to perfection,” Hitchcock said. “We missed too many scoring chances today. “We made two big mistakes on those two goals and we kind of cracked a little bit and that’s something you don’t want to do.”
So Chicago moves on and for the second straight year, the Blues head home after squandering a 2-0 series lead. The Blackhawks will face either Colorado or Minnesota in the second round of the playoffs.
Power Outage Dooms Blues?
Having strong special teams play is a critical part of any team’s formula for success. And if this series proved anything, it is that special teams play includes more than just killing penalties. The ‘Note were able to kill off 17 of the 20 penalties taken in this series, which should have been good enough to win. However, any momentum gained on the penalty kill was wasted as the ‘Note only converted two of 29 chances with a man advantage. Despite going o-for-6 on the power play in Sunday’s game six loss, the Blues captain said special teams play isn’t the reason the ‘Note are heading home.
“I don’t think special teams was our downfall, our penalty kill was good and theirs was great. Our power play struggled to produce but at times provided momentum for us,” Backes said. “We did everything but score on five or six of them and if we score on those it’s a different series for sure.”
Backes isn’t completely off point here. The Blues only held the lead three times in regulation in the entire series. They jumped out to an early lead in the first game of the series before going on to win a triple-overtime thriller. The ‘Note jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period of the second game before going on to win in overtime. The Blues final lead in regulation came in the third period of game four, which the ‘Note went on to lose in overtime. So, to a degree Backes is right, but the fact remains that the Blues power play was nonexistent in the playoffs, which is a major problem.
Deja Vu For St. Louis
After watching this series, one thing is certain. Reruns are only fun when it comes to sitcoms. The Blues saw their season end in a similar fashion against the Los Angeles Kings last season. After jumping out to a 2-0 series lead, the ‘Note dropped four straight to end their season. But just how similar were these two series?
In 2013 against the Kings the ‘Note only led twice in regulation. This year against Chicago, the Blues held three leads in regulation time.
Last season the Blues went 2-for-17 with a man advantage while killing off 13 of the 15 penalties taken in the series. In 2014, the “Note were a disappointing 2-for-29 on the power play but killed off 17-of-the 20 penalties taken in the series.
For more on the eerie similarities between the last two Blues playoff series, take a look at this graphic.