posted on April 28, 2014 06:50
I was sitting at the Scottrade Center Friday night right as the puck was about to be dropped for the overtime period, and I was thinking to myself, “This is one of the most important overtime periods in franchise history.”
I write this because a) it was before Jonathan Toews won it, and b) it was something both Brett Hull and Kelly Chase had said on CBS Sports 920 over the last few weeks.
Allow me to explain:
As the regular season was ending with a disastrous thud, both Hull and Chase said that the next few weeks would determine quite a bit about the direction the franchise goes…because a first round exit would not be acceptable.
So, taking it back to Friday night right as overtime is about to get underway, I was thinking that if the Blues scored, they’d win the series. But, if Chicago scored, not only would the Blackhawks win the series…but this group that had just gotten done breaking the franchise’s regular season record for wins will be---right or wrong---blown up.
When Toews beat Ryan Miller to end Game Five and give the Blackhawks a 3-2 series lead, there was an absolute stunned silence amongst Blues’ fans. The substantial pockets of Blackhawks’ fans and their screams of joy added to the misery of the moment. At that point, most Blues’ fans knew what was coming Sunday. But, I don’t think many of us expected it to go down in the manner that it did.
With the game tied at 1, the Blues had power play after power play…and scoring chance after scoring chance. They outshot Chicago 17-3 in the period…but despite all of those opportunities---just like many of the other games in the series---the Blues couldn’t convert. And the Blackhawks withstood the rush by getting to the second intermission still tied at 1.
“You kind of have the feeling in the back of your head that I hope this doesn’t come back and haunt us with all the power plays that we’ve earned and then not scored one, but it did,” Ken Hitchcock said.
Less than a minute into the third period…like clockwork…the Blackhawks went up 2-1.
I’m sure many Blues’ fans felt at that moment that it was over…not just from a feeling down deep in our guts from years of playoff pain…but also from a logic standpoint. The Blues simply couldn’t score…and so the idea of a) tying it and b) scoring again at some point to send it back to St. Louis seemed rather unlikely.
But, Hitchcock said that wasn’t the case.
“The bench was still fine. Our team had great spirit at the start. Great spirit for the first and second period. We played as well as we’ve ever played in this building was the way we played in the first two periods. And then the third goal…the air just went out of the bench.”
And on that third goal…on yet another breakaway…Ryan Miller looked rather awkward in his attempt to stop Patrick Sharp.
Post-Dispatch reporter Dan O’Neil asked the Blues’ coach about the goal in the post-game press conference.
O’Neil: That third goal, is that one Ryan has to have?
Hitchcock: I don’t want to get into that either. The goal was a backbreaker.
Hitchcock elaborated when pressed on Miller’s play again.
“He played good for us. I’m sure there’s some goals he’d like to have back…just as any goalie would. We win as a team. We lose as a team.”
But, over the last three April’s, the losing has been too common, and after leading a series 2-0 for the second straight year, the Blues lost four straight. Fans are sick of it, and so are players.
I enjoyed David Backes’ comments in his postgame exchange with Bernie Federko on Fox Sports Midwest.
Backes: “I’m proud of a lot of our guys and the battle they put out. We just need to find that next little play and get a result we’re happy with instead of these somber interviews that are getting to be a little too common for me.”
Bernie Federko: “It was a great year and very unfortunate that this happens, but I know that you guys will learn from this and come back stronger, because this is a team that is built for the future.”
Backes: “Well, we need to not wait too long. We need to figure these things out and take long, hard looks in the mirror… We’ll be putting our balls on the line to do whatever we can and get a job done. I think there’s 25 guys in that room that feel the same way. This sucks right now, but we’ll have to learn and go forward.”
Yeah…the future thing doesn’t fly anymore. This team wasn’t built for the future. This team was built to win in 2014. You don’t make a trade for free agent Ryan Miller thinking about the future.
But, after another early round exit, I’m concerned about the future.
And that takes me back to my thoughts Friday night as the puck was about to be dropped for overtime.
This series loss is, without question, seriously damaging to the Blues. The question is just how damaging…both on the ice and off of it.
Will the organization make major changes? Should the organization make major changes?
Just like last year…the Blues lost four straight to end the first round.
And, just like last year---and going back to 2012 against the Kings for that matter---the Blues couldn’t score and couldn’t do a damn thing on the power play.
But, just like last year, every single game was close…up until the third period of Game Six.
That makes the analysis difficult.
The chances were there…so many chances. So, does that mean that they keep the core together…or because this core hasn’t been able to score in the playoffs---even if the chances are plentiful---then the Blues can’t risk another run at April with a group that’s had three shots…and produced the same results all ending in the same fashion: a stunning lack of scoring.
I know emotions are high right now for many Blues’ fans, but I don’t think it’s a lock that the right thing to do is blow it up. However, I wonder if the fear of a large backlash from the passionate fans and an “oh, well, that’s what they do” from the casual fans will lead to a business and hockey decisions rooted in emotion.
The organization has a real challenge in front of it, because after a year in which just six weeks ago the team was the overwhelming favorite to win the Stanley Cup, the result was the same. So, for those casual fans---who are needed to fill the building and drive interest---the “regular season doesn’t mean a thing” discussion will be even more prominent this offseason and going into 2014-15.
I went back to look at my columns following the playoff losses in 2012 and 2013. The talking point in 2012 was that young teams “need to lose” in order to win in the playoffs. I thought it was batshit at the time, and I still think that it is batshit. Considering a) I had a quote from Wayne Gretzky in the column in 2012 saying that wasn’t true anymore because of free agency and young players playing at a much younger age (see 2010 Blackhawks) and b) the Blues haven’t won a playoff series since 2012, I’m comfortable that damn near all of us will see the farce of that Neosporin Narrative failing to sooth your season-ending wounds. In 2013, people---including the Head Coach---were angry.
“I hope our players when they pause and reflect about it, they're going to be really, really pissed off, because we didn't finish.”
That was Ken Hitchcock following Game Six in Los Angeles last year. Pissed off.
The message really wasn’t clear. And I think that’s because they’re stunned. How did they go from where they were in mid-March to being done before the end of April? How could they blow another 2-0 series lead? How could they go from a four-point lead on the President’s Trophy to pissing it away and having to play Chicago in the first round? The players, coaches, and front office have to wonder how it all happened.
And, perhaps some of them are wondering if they’re going to be back for next year.
They’re used to it…and that’s the saddest part of this whole deal.
It’s a bunch of regular season success…and another April House of Horrors.
The difference in 2014 is that it was a long, slow painful death that Blues’ fans saw coming at the end of March.
But, as is fitting for the tortured history, the team not only gave major hope by winning in thrilling fashion in Games One and Two, but by outplaying the Blackhawks in Game Three only to lose…and taking a late lead in Game Four…only to lose in overtime.
By the time the Blackhawks were celebrating up against the Scottrade Center boards Friday night in the immediate aftermath of the “most important overtime,” Blues’ fans knew what was coming Sunday.
What we don’t know is how the organization reacts to it.
Failure in the playoffs is nothing new, but this particular failure…this particular collapse…this is new. And its impact could mean major changes to a team that…less than two months ago…was a prohibitive Stanley Cup favorite.
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