After limping to finish line, Blues taking time to refocus before playoffs
ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Blues’ regular season finally, mercifully, came to an end Sunday afternoon at Scottrade Center with a 3-0 defeat to the visiting Detroit Red Wings, the sixth straight loss to close out this inexplicable season.
Rest in Peace.
Sunday’s game was Fan Appreciation Night, which included the Blues handing over their jerseys to a group of fortunate fans on the ice at its conclusion. It was a fitting finish to the regular season with a tribute to fans who have witnessed the good, the bad and, most recently, the ugly over the course of the 82-game schedule.
Sunday’s loss was the Blues’ second straight game without a goal and sixth shutout in 25 games since the Olympic break after not being blanked in the first 57 contests.
The defeat dropped St. Louis to 52-23-7 with 111 points to finish second behind Colorado in the Central Division and earn a matchup with the rival Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. That’s a drastic decline from two weeks ago when the squad was pushing for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage for the entire playoffs.
"From our standpoint, we red-lined most of the year," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We red-lined and we had a helluva year, but we ran out of gas. We ran out of gas. It’s not the players’ fault, it’s the schedule, Olympics. We ran out of gas.
"This gives us a chance to retool ourselves, refocus and get some rest. That’s the biggest change we’re going to have to make here. We’re going to have to really focus on the rest leading into this tournament so that we can get as fresh as we can early in the tournament. But I can guarantee you now, everybody that’s out, that was out today, at some period of time, they’re going to be in."
It took 12 seconds for the P.A. announcer to finish reading the complete list of scratches for the Blues prior to Sunday’s game: Barret Jackman, Brenden Morrow, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Sergey Andronov, Vladimir Tarasenko and goalie Niklas Lundstrom.
St. Louis had three players on the ice against the Red Wings — Adam Cracknell, Keith Aucoin and Ty Rattie — who weren’t even on the active roster at the start of the losing streak. That might be as good a gauge as any for the state of the Blues as they limped, literally, to the finish line.
After the game, Hitchcock and his players talked about the big picture of the 2013-14 season and then quickly looked ahead to the upcoming playoff series against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
"The big picture is we set a record for (wins)," Hitchock said. "We had a brutal stretch here at the end. Every team went through a brutal stretch. The teams that had the Olympians, at some period of time, they hit the wall. Chicago’s stretch was right after the break; ours happened now. This break will do us really a lot of good and we can get re-energized, refocused and come back and get ready to play."
Alexander Steen said there’s no point in dwelling on the way the Blues finished the regular season.
"Nothing’s going to change," said the forward, who led the Blues with 33 goals and 62 points in just 67 games. "You don’t get better by feeling sorry for yourself. It’s the way we finished the season. That’s all. Now we have to regroup and get ready for the first round. There’s 16 teams left. We don’t have anything. We have to go and get it. We have to go grab it. We’ll be looking to get ourselves, body and mind, prepared for Chicago. It’s going to be fun."
What’s done is done, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said.
"We have to remind ourselves that we’re in the playoffs," he said. "There’s a lot of teams that aren’t and would really like to be in our position. So regardless of what happened the last five, six games, turn the page. It’s over. It’s not going to get us anywhere dwelling on it."
But fans of the home six, media members and hockey fans everywhere outside the Blues’ locker room left scratching their heads at this skid can rest assured that they were not alone.
"To people inside (the locker room) it’s a head scratcher as well," Bouwmeester said. "But call it what it is. It’s things catching up for injuring or whatever. It really doesn’t matter anymore. That has to be our focus: Just kind of regroup and move forward. I can’t explain it. I don’t know. Anyone can take their best guess. Obviously, we haven’t played as well as we need to and as we have all year, so it’s just a matter of getting back to that. I think we’ll be OK."
That’s still to be determined, of course.
But there is certainly a strong case to be made that the conclusion of the regular season, however painful — both literally and figuratively — it might have been, the Blues have an opportunity to hit the reset button and move forward with a fresh start.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.