The precise number varied from player to player, but the consensus among the Blues on Thursday was they did a pretty good job for most of Wednesday night's game with Detroit.
Ryan Reaves pegged the length of the Blues' quality play at 54 minutes, Barret Jackman at 55, Matt D'Agostini, either slightly more critical or with a slightly more precise clock, said it was "close to 55," while goalie Brian Elliott, perhaps acknowledging the difficulty of measuring such a thing, took a more general "50-plus" and Alex Steen had it in the 50- to 55-minute range.
Of course, the fact that NHL games are 60 minutes — or longer — speaks to why the Blues were, as D'Agostini said, "trying to take positives" from what turned out to be a 3-2 shootout loss to the Red Wings after blowing a 2-0 lead. It was the Blues' third defeat in a row (though two of them were in shootouts), just the second time this season they're suffered a losing streak that long, and dropped their record in the past 10 games to 3-3-4, their worst mark in such a span this season.
"That's the way we want to play all the time," Elliott said of Wednesday's good times. "What good teams do is not have that lapse. We have to keep getting better. We can't hang our hats on playing almost a full game. It's a tough way to lose when you battle that hard."
"That six-minute lapse kind of hurt us," Reaves said. "But we got a point out of it. Lesson learned, and at least it's not a lesson we had to learn in the playoffs."
The Stanley Cup playoffs are right around the corner, starting for the Blues on Wednesday or Thursday, and this is not a good time to be going through a slump, though it's obviously better than doing it once the playoffs begin. The Blues have two games between now and then, the first tonight against Phoenix, another team battling for playoff position.
"You want everything clicking and clicking right," Jackman said. "You don't want to be working out things the first couple games of the playoffs. You want to have everyone on the same page, know what to expect from each teammate, and go in with that mindset that if we play our best hockey we're going to win games."
Coach Ken Hitchcock, who put the number at 50 minutes, agreed with his players that the team did some pretty good stuff on Wednesday, stuff that will serve them well when the playoffs begin.
"If we can play like that, that's exactly what we need," Hitchcock said. "We played good enough until we got comfortable. It's 2-0, it's pretty comfortable, and then we started to revert. We reverted back to not hard enough on the forecheck, casual with the puck, so it's not all the way there.
"We're at the 50-minute mark anyway. We got 60 against Nashville, it was great; we got 60 against L.A., we played great. We get 30 against Chicago (the start of the losing streak), we get 20 against Columbus, then we got 50 last night. If we're going to get 50 minutes of that type of performance, we've got something to build on. But against a team like Detroit, it's got to be 60. If we would have stayed on the program for 60 minutes and managed the puck the right way, and stayed on the forecheck and stayed on the hunt, we would have won the game for sure. It wasn't like they jumped into the game, we let them into the game. We let them into the game by backing off too much. You can't do that against that team."
Facing Phoenix, which still has a chance to be the No. 3 seed in the West, is a plus for the Blues, Hitchcock figures, since the Blues' level of play seems to match the opponent's point total.
"I think playing Columbus probably brought out the worst in us," Hitchcock said. "I think we played careless and reckless against them. ... When we play opponents, there's almost a fear factor. For whatever reason, this is a team, when we're comfortable, we don't play well. But when we're uncomfortable, we play really well. And I think playoffs are always uncomfortable. So I'm anticipating that we're really going to play well in the playoffs here and we're going to play really well again tomorrow night."
So is there cause for concern?
Said Jackman: "Absolutely not. We didn't play our best game a couple games ago, but last night we played a lot better, doing a lot of the little things, doing a lot of checking, skating really well. I think it was a step in the right direction. We had a good practice today, some good meetings, and we'll come back and continue to play our style."