ST. LOUIS — A pair of seven-game series wins might have taken a toll on the St. Louis Blues, who, instead of competing for the Stanley Cup this season, will have to settle for the franchise’s first appearance in the Western Conference final since 2001.
The Blues had trouble putting away the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round after taking a 3-1 series lead. They missed a chance to close out the second round at home in Game 6 against the Dallas Stars.
And home ice never really was an advantage for a team that last made the finals in 1970 and has never won a Cup.
"I think if you’re going to look at one aspect, it’s our inability to close off those first two series and get the rest that San Jose got by closing off L.A. so early," coach Ken Hitchcock said after the 5-2 Game 6 loss Wednesday night in San Jose sent the Blues packing. "Ended up really hurting us in this series."
Hitchcock twice changed goalies in an effort to rouse his team, and it worked once in a resurgent Game 4 victory. Otherwise, the Blues never mustered enough offense, twice getting shut out.
They totaled 13 goals against the Sharks, six in their high water mark Game 4 victory.
"We’re not taking anything away from that team," captain David Backes said. "But when we play our game the way that we can play it, for the full game, it gives anybody fits."
They rarely found that level, perhaps because of the fatigue factor. They were 4-6 at the Scottrade Center despite a string of vociferous standing-room crowds.
"It didn’t ruin things," forward Troy Brouwer said. "We fought real hard during the regular season to try and get home-ice advantage; it turned out we were better on the road."
Things to know about the Blues before next season:
VANISHING STAR: Vladimir Tarasenko was silent until it was too late, getting his first two goals and first two points of the series after the Blues were down by four and desperate late in the third period Wednesday. He appeared to coast at times, perhaps frustrated by all the attention he was getting from the San Jose defense.
CONTRACT TIME: The 32-year-old Backes led by example in the most productive postseason of his career by far. Re-signing him should be a priority. Backes had seven goals, equaling his total from five previous playoff experiences.
Brouwer, also 32, was a nice fit. He’s also coming off an eye-opening playoff run after a solid regular season, and cost the Blues T.J. Oshie in a deal with Washington.
"Hopefully, this group can stay together because I think we have a really good opportunity," Brouwer said. "I loved playing with these guys."
GROWING UP: Young defensemen, so solid earlier in the postseason, faltered a bit against the Sharks. The Blues got a lot of mileage in particular out of former third-round pick Colton Parayko and, to a lesser extent, fellow rookie Joel Edmundson. The experience should be invaluable moving forward.
GOALIE TANDEM: Brian Elliott and Jake Allen shared duties during the regular season and that could happen again with both good enough to be an outright No. 1. Elliott was a star earlier in the playoffs. The job shuffle has never generated controversy.
TEAM FIRST: Backes teared up at his locker stall relating how fellow forward Steve Ott made a helpful contribution that helped Backes stay in the lineup after he’d been shaken up in Game 4. "Knowing that he’s the guy coming out of the lineup if I can play," Backes said, "that’s pretty selfless, and that’s the kind of guys we have in here. Guys blocking shots and sacrificing their bodies."
KEEPING HITCH: Hitchcock also is a free agent, coming off a one-year contract after the Blues’ third straight first-round dismissal last spring. He guided the team to a 107-point season, third-best overall in the NHL, working with a roster beset with injuries to key personnel, and was instrumental in helping end that early-exit stigma.
After the finale, Hitchcock said he’d wait a couple days to talk to the team. Then, maybe, the players can feel better about a breakthrough season that finally rewarded a long-suffering core that includes Backes, Elliott, Alex Pietrangelo, Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund.
"They’ve bonded together here better than any team I’ve coached in the last 10 years," Hitchcock said. "They need their time together. They don’t need me interrupting them right now."
WINNING FOR HOMETOWN: The Blues were the perfect antidote when St. Louis needed them most in the wake of the Rams’ departure for Los Angeles.
"I think the city of St. Louis, the fans, the people of St. Louis, fell in love with the team because of this never-say-die attitude they have," Hitchcock said. "They’re disappointed like we are. But they fell in love with a hockey club that just poured it all in every night and had to."