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Friday, March 30, 2012

The Blues Go Down in Chitown -- Again

Posted By on Fri, Mar 30, 2012 at 7:58 AM

click to enlarge "The call is coming from inside the United Center! You need to get out of there right now!" But it was too late. The Blues could already hear the zamboni coming closer across the ice...
  • "The call is coming from inside the United Center! You need to get out of there right now!" But it was too late. The Blues could already hear the zamboni coming closer across the ice...
The Curse of the United Center strikes again. 

Okay, as scary story, there-was-a-hook-on-the-car-door-handle material goes, the United Center's sinister ability to prevent St. Louis Blues victories isn't exactly grade A terrifying. But as team-headed-to-the-playoffs-considering-possible-matchups material goes, I'll tell you this: the United Center and the Chicago Blackhawks scare the living shit out of me. 

The Blues lost a second consecutive game via the shootout to the Blackhawks in Chicago by the score of 4-3. Sixteen days ago, the last time the Blues visited the United Center, they lost in a shootout, 4-3. Twenty-three days before that, the Blues lost to the Blackhawks in Chicago 3-1. I do believe there is a trend here. 

The good news is the Blues almost surely won't have to worry about seeing Chicago and their haunted barn in the first round of the playoffs. The bad news is there's no guarantee they won't have to see the United Center at some point during the playoffs, and I just don't feel at all good about the Blues' chances if they do. 

The worst of it isn't that the Blues lose in the United Center. If there were weird, fluky bounces of the puck and things like that, a goalie forgetting to actually put on pads or something, I could dismiss it all as coincidence. But the fact is, the Blues just flat-out don't play well in Chicago. And I don't know if that can be explained away as easily. 

Last night the Blues were outshot 40-20. You don't win games very often when your opponent doubles your number of shots on goal. More worrisome still, this wasn't an isolated bad game; the Blues were outshot 46-24 -- again, nearly a 2:1 ratio -- back on the 13th of March as well. Their loss back in February looked much better, as they outshot the Blackhawks 30-27, but that does little to take the sting out of the last two debacles. 

Jaroslav Halak was very good once again; his 37 saves is a good enough stat by itself, but fails to capture just how badly the Blues were outplayed. The shots were 2:1 in favor of Chicago; the actual scoring chances were 12:4, with the Blackhawks having the 12. You can't give up quality scoring opportunities all night and expect to win, even when your goalie plays as well as Jaro did last night. If not for Halak's performance, the game would never have remained anywhere near within reach long enough for the Blues to make a late comeback. For roughly 55 minutes the Blues looked dead in the water, and Jaro was the only thing keeping them within shouting distance of the 'Hawks. 

I will say it's very nice to see Alex Steen back on the ice, even if he doesn't look completely up to speed just yet. The Blues' first line of Steen, T.J. Oshie, and David Backes was easily the team's most productive for the biggest part of the season; let's hope the return of Steen from his concussion can make that true again. 

The one other thing I found really notable about the game last night was how few penalties were called, in spite of the game itself being played in an extremely physical manner. The Blackhawks, honestly, simply outmuscled the Blues, and the Blues' players had no answer. It isn't often that the Blues are outphysicaled this season; it's equally rare to see the 'Hawks hitting with mayhem in mind. And yet that's exactly what we saw, and the referees just swallowed their whistles for most of the game. I'm not sure if they were practicing for the playoffs, when 'let the players play' become code for, "Sure, go ahead and whack that guy with your stick a couple times. Just stop once he's unconscious, okay?" or if there was something else going on, but I spotted at least a handful of hits I think would have drawn penalty minutes in most regular season games. 

Bottom line, the Blues didn't deserve to win this game, and they didn't. They really didn't deserve to get a point out of it, either; they did manage to pull off that feat, though. The goaltending was good enough to keep the game close, and in the end the Blues were able to fight back late and grab a point they had no right to. That's the silver lining to this particular game, if one were so inclined as to look for it. 

Now, if you want the clouds, just go back to thinking about the playoffs, and the spectre of a possible matchup somewhere along the line with the demons of the United Center. 

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