Blues' season ends on flat note

Change is coming this offseason for the St. Louis Blues.

That much is certain after the team’s third first-round playoff exit in three seasons. What those changes entail remain to be seen, of course, but they figure to be significant.

“I would assume so,” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk told reporters after the game when asked about potential changes. “(General manager Doug Armstrong) is not a guy who’s going to sit back and let this happen year after year. That's the hardest thing for us right now is having to worry about that.”

The sweat wasn’t even dried on the Blues’ jerseys when a hockey analyst based in Chicago tweeted that the Blues will fire coach Ken Hitchcock this week and that former San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan will be one of the names on their short list.

There’s certainly plenty of blame to go around.

The Blues are 175-79-27 since Hitchcock took over early in the 2011-12 season, when he won the Jack Adams Award, including two division titles and two second-place finishes. But they are now 6-12 in the playoffs over the last three seasons and 6-16 over their last four series, if you want to count the sweep by the Los Angeles Kings in the conference semifinals back in 2012.

Hitchcock has and will be criticized for his decision to go with young goalie Jake Allen over veteran Brian Elliott, but Allen allowed just six goals in the first four games of the series before surrendering six in the final two.

Allen’s final numbers for the series — 2.20 goals-against average and .904 save percentage — are still superior to Elliott’s 2.54 GAA and .897 save percentage in 19 career playoff games.

It will be easy to point the finger at the coach. Whether or not it is justified, and you can make a case either way, he probably coached his last game with the Blues on Sunday afternoon.

The players deserve plenty of culpability, also.

“It's on the players first,” Shattenkirk said. “It was a tough series to swallow. It’s hard to fully think about it now. It’s hard. You’re almost in shock that this just happened. It’s really hard to talk and evaluate it, but we have to look in the mirror first always.”

The Blues were tied two games apiece going into Game 5 against the Wild, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings the past three seasons. Any of those series could have turned.

Instead, the Blues lost all three of their Game 5 opportunities. Then they followed up those defeats by losing in Game 6. All told, they were outscored 21-7 over those six games.

“The fact of the matter is we didn’t do enough from the first guy down to the last guy and now we go to the summer again way to early,” David Backes told reporters.

The Blues scored 14 goals in six games this series, an average of 2.33 per contest. That came after averaging 2.9 per game during the regular season, which ranked fifth in the league.

“It was either feast or famine,” Hitchcock said. “They made us work for our chances. We had a lot of chances in Game 5, but they made us work for them. We didn't score. So you can look at all the chances when the game's on the line. It's us and the goalie three times and the goalie and us and the goalie three times in period three when it’s on the line and we didn't finish it. You can dissect that all you want. The biggest thing for me is it's hard to win when you're chasing games all the time. We were chasing too many games here at the end of the third period.”

Vladimir Tarasenko scored six of the team's 14 goals. Patrik Berglund scored twice after scoring just 12 goals in 77 games during the regular season.

Backes, T.J. Oshie, Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen and Ryan Reaves each scored one goal during the series.

Backes and Oshie finished with two points apiece in six games.

For Backes, the Blues’ captain, that makes six points in 16 playoff games over the last three seasons.

With Oshie, it is six points in 17 games over three seasons and nine points in 30 career playoff games. He’s minus-12 in his playoff career.

Steen, who had four points (one goal, three assists) this series, now has 14 points in 31 career playoff games and is minus-8.

So the Blues will head into another offseason wondering where it all went wrong, with them and their beleaguered fans looking for answers and trying to figure out what’s missing from this team that will make the difference in the playoffs next time.

“That's what everybody's searching for,” Elliott said. “It's a tough league, a tough tournament, the Cup is the toughest trophy to win in sports, if we knew that answer we'd probably do something about it. I'm sure, just like all the teams that don't win the Cup, the 15 others that are in the playoffs are going to be doing the same searching that we are.”

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com


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