The Blues are headed back to Los Angeles on a downbound train, seemingly en route to the same, inescapable fate that has cursed every team draped in The Note since this star-crossed franchise came into existence in 1967-1968.
Generations of Blues fans know that the Stanley Cup postseason is an annual purging of the soul, a penance of dashed hopes, broken dreams and lonely teardrops.
After winning the first two games from the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference quarterfinal series, the Blues have lost control by flopping to three consecutive losses. They’ll be fortunate to survive for a scheduled Game 7 on Monday at home at Scottrade Center.
The latest crusher came on a goal by Los Angeles defenseman Slava Voynov eight minutes into overtime of Game 5 Wednesday night, with the Kings ripping a 3-2 win from the Blues’ increasingly shaky hands.
An excruciating defeat placed the Blues squarely on the precarious overhang that offers an unwelcome view of the offseason.
The distress was especially severe given the Blues’ startling comeback on a goal by defenseman Alex Pietrangelo with only 44.1 seconds remaining in the third period.
Petro’s stunning pellet from the right point tied the score 2-2 and briefly delivered an emotional rescue to the Blues and their full-house, full-tilt crowd.
Alas, Petro’s blast only prolonged the tease and the torment. The end came with Voynov finishing off a 3-on-2 rush — and the Blues — with a deep-in, right-side shot that slid between the loose pads of goaltender Brian Elliott.
“I’m sure ‘Els’ would like to have that one back,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said.
It was a bad goal that put the Blues in a bad position of facing elimination Friday night in LA. In the words of David Byrne of the band Talking Heads: “Same as it ever was.”
The agonizing tradition continues.
To be a Blues fan, to stay a Blues fan — to live and die as a Blues fan — you must be mentally strong, incredibly stubborn and conveniently numb on preferred medication.
The Blues didn’t play scared Wednesday. Pumped by the reunion of the maniacal CPR line — Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves — the Blues jumped to an early 9-2 advantage in shots, only to be rejected by Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in a scoreless first period.
The CPR line set the tone, making it easier for the other Blues to tap into the energy source. Hitchcock came off like a proud grandpa as he praised the Blues’ determination.
“We got a heck of an effort from everybody across the board,” he said. “We had no passengers today. We had an all-in mentality.”
Hitchcock also called Wednesday’s showing “our best effort of the year.”
That’s swell. But what does that say about this matchup? The Blues once led the Kings 2-0 in this series but let LA get away in the winnable Games 3 and 4. The Blues were back at home for Game 5 with a clear opportunity to recapture the series lead.
Their coach said his players were “fighting like crazy” and lathered them with “Best Effort of the Year” honors. The Blues also had the Pietrangelo jolt to send them into OT with at least some momentum.
And the home team STILL couldn’t beat the Kings in a game the Blues had to have. From the St. Louis perspective, that does not bode well for the remainder of this conflict.
So what can they do?
“Just keep playing the same,” Hitchcock said.
I suppose so.
The question of the day: How would the Blues respond in Game 5? The consecutive losses in Southern California were frustrating and put the Blues into a fragile state. The Blues’ mindless squandering of two leads in Game 4 raised old concerns about the team’s maturity and capacity for dealing with excruciating pressure.
The fear factor was obvious. Los Angeles, the defending Stanley Cup champion, was coming back to St. Louis to reopen fresh wounds, dim the lights at Scottrade and shove the Blues closer to yet another hopeless, empty spring.
After recovering from the Blues’ initial raid, the Kings brought the home-team mood down with a Jeff Carter goal only 14 seconds into the second period. Carter bulled by T.J. Oshie to punch in a rebound, and the Blues trailed 1-0.
The line of Patrik Berglund, David Perron and Oshie was burned repeatedly in Game 4, and the Kings went right back at ’em for more free money.
Put it this way: When Oshie, Berglund and Perron are on the ice for more Los Angeles Kings goals than Marcelle Dionne, Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer, the Blues have serious problems.
A few minutes later the Blues rallied on a determined foray by Alexander Steen, who muscled his way through LA defensemen Jake Muzzin to curl into the slot to snap a shot by Quick. The Blues had a 1-1 tie and a reason to believe.
Alas, the uprising was quashed by Carter’s power play goal 54 seconds into the third period. Pietrangelo lifted the Blues up again. But in a deadening, arena-silencing moment, Voynov sent the Blues and their fans to the breaking point.
Now the Blues travel to Los Angeles and the Staples Center. Back to the same spot of the crash that ended their 2012 postseason. Back to the brink for a franchise that seems trapped in an endless cycle of doom. For the cursed Blues, history always repeats itself.