LOS ANGELES • The disappointment level for Blues' fans in the playoffs continues to have no boundaries.
After the excitement of a two-game lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series against LA, the Blues bowed out of the postseason Friday night after a 2-1 loss in Game 6.
And if that's all one reads, they might be better off.
For a franchise still looking for its first Stanley Cup and still lamenting many postseason fall-outs, the Blues have another one to add to the collection. In a series that played to six one-goal decisions, the finish was even closer, as LA's Dustin Penner netted the game-winning goal with two-tenths of a second remaining in the second period.
The defending Stanley Cup champions claimed the series four games to two and will advance to play either Anaheim or San Jose in the second round. The Blues, predicted by some to be contenders for the Kings' crown, will claim their belongings in St. Louis and depart for the offseason.
"It’s beginning to be a broken record but we still didn’t get the job done," captain David Backes said. "We were up to 2-0 and to lose four straight. It’s pretty sour right now. This team was hot going into the playoffs, added pieces at the deadline. We took on some big players and we were expecting better than this. I don’t know what the next step is, but right now it’s just sour.”
Forget about back-breakers. This was a soul-crusher.
The Blues were on the verge of setting up for a third-period showdown in Game 6 when disaster struck in the final frame — literally the final frame — of the second period.
The club had controlled the pace in the middle period, tying the score 1-1 and creating several other scoring chances. One might say that the hockey gods suddenly changed allegiances, but that would excuse the many mistakes that led to LA's last-second goal.
Backes failed to clear the puck twice. After a neutral-zone turnover, LA's Rob Scuderi moved the puck to Penner, who skated into the offensive zone unabated, with Chris Stewart looking on from just a few feet away. He teed up for a left-handed slap shot that grazed off defenseman Roman Polak's stick and inhumanely zipped past goalie Brian Elliott.
“It’s a cast of errors," Hitchcock said. "We didn’t get the puck deep twice when we had a chance to clear. We didn’t check the right player, and it went off our stick. You can’t blame Elliott on that. That was a complete deflection and went up almost four feet from where the original shot was. But we didn’t get it cleared. We panicked with the puck and it ended up in our net.”
Penner lined up for the shot directly in front of his team's bench.
"I think there was probably 20 guys and three coaches yelling for me to shoot," he said.
Polak said that he should have let the puck go for Elliott to see.
"It was a bad play by me," he said. "There were just two seconds left. I tried to block it and I just got a piece of it."
The puck also got a piece of the post on the way in.
"What can you say?" Elliott said. "You can’t put blame on (Polak) for trying to get in front of the puck. We’re all trying to do our best out there. Obviously, we’re all frustrated that had to be the one goal we couldn’t get back.”
The daze was still apparent in the third period, as Patrik Berglund found himself alone in front of LA goalie Jonathan Quick. Yet, he couldn't tie the score.
"I wanted to trick him a little bit a take a quick shot," Berglund said. "He saved it and the puck was there again and I missed the net."
Berglund wasn't alone in that department.
In the second period alone, Ryan Reaves had a chance on the Kings' doorstep and was stopped by Quick, and Kevin Shattenkirk failed on the follow-up. Stewart had an open shot and fired wide. Jaden Schwartz missed on a good look.
The Blues finished Game 6 with 21 missed shots.
“I think that’s probably the story of the series for us: missed opportunities," Hitchcock said. "We had a lot of people play very hard, but didn’t get timely goals. I thought the best player of the series was their goalie. In the end, he made the big saves when we had the five or six close chances today.”
Quick made 21 saves in Game 6 and turned away 167 of 177 shots in the series (.944 save-percentage). Elliott saw only 16 shots Friday, but both LA goals were tough pills to swallow.
The goal that gave the Kings a 1-0 lead in the first period also stemmed from a play that started as nothing. A 2-on-2 rush unfolded with Colin Frasier dropping the puck for Drew Doughty just inside the offensive zone. With Polak inexplicably backing up and failing to pressure, Doughty did a pump-fake before rifling in his only goal of the series with 7:23 remaining.
"He kind of stopped me there on the move," Polak said. "He made it look like he was going to shoot a slapper. He waited and shot it strong side. It was a pretty good shot."
But the Blues answered back in the second period, knotting the score 1-1 on Chris Porter's first-career playoff goal. Polak took a shot from the point and the puck deflected in off the leg of Porter just 4:39 into the second period.
Before the second period was over, Elliott made a crucial save on a breakaway by LA's Dustin Brown to keep the score 1-1. The Blues thought they would head to the second intermission deadlocked. They thought wrong.
“On the road, a tied game going into the third, you’re OK with that knowing that you are sticking around for your chance. But with 0.2 seconds left..." Backes said. "On that play you’re just kicking yourself. Those are the little things that get magnified and make a difference in playoff hockey. They dug deeper than we did tonight. The fate is we’re going home and they are continuing on.”
Said Penner: "They played a great series. They got unlucky a few times. We got lucky."