The Blues' Final Stand

May 7, 2012 at 8:19 am
Our Blues are singing the blues today. The season is over. 
Our Blues are singing the blues today. The season is over. 
The word 'unceremonious' comes to mind at times like these. It's a good word, unceremonious; it is perfectly evocative of it's intended meaning. Whatever it is you're describing, whatever it might be that has happened, you know that there was no pomp, no circumstance, no fancy, no schmancy, no party and certainly no hearty. There was no ceremony. 

The Blues were swept unceremoniously out of the playoffs yesterday by the Los Angeles Kings

See, isn't that a nice sentence? Well, maybe not a nice sentence, exactly; it's a real kick in the balls to read, after all. But it's a really good sentence all the same. It tells you exactly what happened. Not only were the Blues beaten; they were swept. In fact, they were more than swept. They were swept unceremoniously. No pomp, no circumstance. It happened quietly, with a minimum of excitement. It was unceremonious and deeply depressing for fans of a team whose history of postseason failings is far too long to list. 

It wasn't supposed to be like this, you know. This team was supposed to be different from all those other Blues teams. No, don't ask me why! It just was, alright?! I'm too busy trying to find the bottom of this bottle of scotch to explain it to you anyway. 

But they really were supposed to be different. 

Unfortunately, the Blues ran into one of the most powerful forces of nature on the face of the earth: a hot hockey team. Teams get hot all the time in the postseason, regardless of the sport; look no further than our own defending world champion Cardinals for a solid example of what happens when a team gets hot at just exactly the right time. But in no other sport does it seem so inexorable that the hot team will win as in hockey. You simply cannot stop a hockey team on a great roll. 

And that's exactly what the LA Kings are right now. They are a very good hockey team on a great roll. They have a great goaltender in Jonathan Quick, playing great hockey, and the rest of the team has elevated their level of play here in the playoffs. The Blues never had a chance. 

What has to be the most frustrating for the Blues, really, is the way they were beaten. Coming in, these two teams looked like mirror images of one another, only the Blues were a little better in every area. Both teams played stifling, physical defense, but the Blues set an NHL record for fewest goals allowed. The Kings were number two in the league. The Blues' group of forwards was stronger overall; the Blues outscored the Kings in the regular season by a comfortable margin. Los Angeles had a couple of flashy names the Blues might have lacked, but by and large the Blues' offense was deeper, more opportunistic, and just flat-out better. 

With two teams having such similar styles of play, one would have expected to see that style brought to its absolute ultimate expression, with the deeper, more talented team holding that ever so slight edge that should have put them over the top. A seven game series, perhaps, with none of the games ending with a margin greater than two goals either way, and the Blues squeaking out a tough win in an incredibly, physical, entertaining series. 

Instead, the Blues were blown off the ice. Four games, outscored 15-6, and the Kings scored three or more goals in every single game. While LA played the part of the aggressors, outtoughing the Blues in the dirty areas of the ice, the Note wilted. The Kings took their intensity to a higher level, and the Blues just couldn't match it. The series was never really close, and the Blues never really seemed to be in a position to mount an offensive. The series was, to be honest, boring. This series was less 2011 Cardinals and more 2004, when the other team was the hot one, and the good guys just ran out of gas. 

In short, the Kings made the Blues look like the weak sister, and they did it by playing the exact same style of hockey the Blues did -- the style the Blues rode to one of the best records in the NHL -- only they did it much, much better. 

There were some bad bounces along the way, of course, as well as some injuries. Alex Pietrangelo played all but the first period of the series fighting an injury. Brian Elliott was hung out to dry without Jaroslav Halak to carry, or at least share, the goaltending load. There were pucks off the crossbar, including a couple of real heartbreakers in the final game, but every team has those. Things didn't much go the Blues' way this final series, but they also didn't make things go their way. 

So we're left with that awful, wonderful word, unceremonious. It was a great ride, and a great season, and the future is still bright for this St. Louis Blues team. But for now, they were unceremoniously swept out of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the hottest team in hockey. 

And that's just the way it is.