By: Anthony Del Fiacco, KCOU Sports
Last year’s first-round bloodbath between the Blues and Blackhawks featured all the drama and excitement you’d want out of a Stanley Cup final.
You saw six combined overtime period over six games, 36 total goals scored, a captain getting absolutely brained on national television, a controversy over who said what whilst said captain lay on the ice, a four-goal third period explosion in the series clincher, you name it. It was a series that transformed MU’s campus into a sea of red and blue hockey sweaters for two weeks and brought out the ugliest behavior in just about everyone involved, yours truly included. It was a fun and terrifying series, and with both clubs boasting two of the deepest lineups in the NHL this season it was also one that seemed destined to be played out once again. Long story short, it did not.
Chicago held up its end of the bargain Saturday night, erasing a 3-1 first period deficit to eliminate the Nashville Predators in six games. As for the Blues and their faithful fans, it’s the same old song and dance as with the last two years: another 100-point regular season, another 4-2 first round exit after the Minnesota Wild’s 4-1 win over them in Game 6 Sunday afternoon. It must be said first and foremost that there is no shame in losing to Minnesota. Since trading for goaltender Devan Dubnyk on January 15, the Wild have been the league’s hottest team. There’s a reason they entered the postseason as a sexy dark horse pick for whomever paid even the slightest amount of attention to Dubnyk’s play (.936 save percentage in 39 starts for Minnesota.) Yet when one considers how talented the Blues have been in almost four full seasons under Ken Hitchcock and holds it up to their playoff record (1 series win, a combined 10-17 record), losing to a surefire finalist for the Hart and Vezina trophies does not offer much consolation.
So what went wrong for St. Louis? It would be too easy to blame this year’s failure on the usual culprit, their goaltending. While the first two goals Jake Allen allowed Sunday were inexcusably soft, to place this loss entirely on his shoulders when his series SV% (.913) was only two thousandths below league average would be very unfair.
Consider the following stats:
- Outside the offensive explosion St. Louis enjoyed in its 6-1 win in Game 4, they tallied only 7 non-empty net goals in the other five games.
- Only Vladimir Tarasenko (6) and Patrik Berglund (2) bulged twine more than once for the series. Though defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk led the team in points (8), none of those points came on a goal.
- Actually, among the Blues’ big name forwards it seems only those whose names rhymed with “Shmarasenko” showed up. David Backes and T.J. Oshie posted identical 1-1-2 point totals in six games. Alex Steen found the back of the net just once, as did offseason signee Paul Stastny.
- Steve Ott finished with 26 penalty minutes, 4 more than the rest of the team combined. That is also more than twice the total amount of minutes he spent on the ice (11:15), which is 11 minutes and 15 seconds more than anyone as talented as Steve Ott should be given.
The fact of the matter is that for all the hand-wringing over why the Blues can’t ever find the right goaltender to make a run for the Cup, goaltending was not the reason (at least not this year) they will spend another May Day on the golf course. Whether it was because they had finally tuned their head coach out (as teams are wont to do after four year under Hitchcock), or because Devan Dubnyk is really that good, or because of bad luck, or because of any combination of those three (that’s my guess), the Blues’ 5th-ranked offense suddenly shooting blanks is what did them in this time.
The front office under GM Doug Armstrong has some difficult decisions to make this offseason. Whatever those may be, I can almost guarantee you dumping Allen and Brian Elliott to search for “the right goaltender” will not—and should not—be one of them.