Fair or not, more than a few people will linger on this fact: the St. Louis Blues have put together strong regular seasons followed by first-round exits for two straight seasons.
The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Blues 5-1 in Game 6 to win the series 4-2 after the Blues took a 2-0 series lead. This contest was the only one that broke from a narrative that bore a downright eerie resemblance to the way St. Louis lost to the Los Angeles Kings in 2013:
Many will bury Ryan Miller for this loss and maybe even this failure overall, and the optics certainly aren’t flattering. The Blues absolutely dominated the second period in particular, yet the third period began tied 1-1 … and then everything fell apart in a big way.
Miller allowed four goals in that final frame, with Jonathan Toews notching another game-winning goal 44 seconds into the third. Patrick Sharp made it 3-1 a little more than two minutes into the third period and then things devolved from there.
The “What if?” questions pile up for the Blues, including the hypothetical situation in which this might have been called a goal:
Special teams may also be a sore spot for St. Louis. The Blues power play went 0-for-6 on Sunday while Chicago went 1-for-2 (and that power-play goal was Toews’ game-winner).
In a way, this highlights the often brutally small line between success and failure in sports. Despite being close to taking the defending champions down – and much closer in this game than the score indicated – the Blues can only look at this season as a failure unless they’re extreme optimists.
As far as the “What’s next?” question, we’ll have to wait and see with the Blues. For the Blackhawks, it’s all about awaiting their second-round opponent as the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild duke it out.
The Los Angeles Kings have placed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff on waivers, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.
A veteran of almost 800 NHL games, Ehrhoff has not fit well with Los Angeles after signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal in August. The 33-year-old has just 11 points in 40 games and is a team-worst minus-10. Though he had two assists in last night’s 9-2 win over the Bruins, he also took a careless tripping penalty in the first period that led to a Boston goal.
In a related story, the Kings are rumored to be looking for help on the back end. In fact, they were reportedly quite interested in Dustin Byfuglien, before he re-signed with the Jets.
According to Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider, 23-year-old defenseman Kevin Gravel is “on the verge of a recall” from AHL Ontario.
The Kings play Thursday in Brooklyn.
Nazem Kadri‘s throat-slashing gesture is under review by the NHL, according to TSN.ca.
The Maple Leafs forward made the gesture while sitting on Toronto’s bench last night in Calgary, moments after he was laid out by Flames captain Mark Giordano.
The NHL first started cracking down on the throat-slashing gesture in 2000. Former NHLer Nick Boyton was suspended twice for making the gesture, first in 2006 then again in 2010. He was banned one game for each incident.
After Tuesday’s loss to the Jets — the Blues’ fourth in their last six games — head coach Ken Hitchcock said his club has “got to play harder than this” and “got to compete at a lot higher level than this.”
He then added “it’s up to us to fix it.”
Well, help is on the way.
On Wednesday, the Blues activated forward Jaden Schwartz off injured reserve, after he missed the last 49 contests with a fractured left ankle. Schwartz is expected to be in the lineup on Friday when the Blues take on the Panthers in Florida.
The 23-year-old should provide an immediate boost to the lineup. Schwartz had four points in seven games before getting hurt, and that came on the heels of a successful ’14-15 campaign in which he posted career highs in goals (28) and points (63).
The Blues’ first-round pick in 2010 (14th overall), Schwartz is a 17-18 TOI per night guy, so he’ll be a big presence almost immediately. His return also inches the team back to full health, though there’s still a ways to go — Alex Pietrangelo and Jake Allen are still week-to-week with knee and lower-body injuries, while Steve Ott is out until late February following hamstrings surgery.
Related: Armstrong wants Blues to get healthy before any trades are made
You can add Jussi Jokinen to the list of Florida Panthers livid with Justin Abdelkader‘s hit on Aleksander Barkov.
“I’m very upset,” Jokinen said, per the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don’t know if I’m too emotional because that’s my best friend on the team. It looked really dangerous.”
Barkov was knocked woozy by a big Abdelkader check during Detroit’s 3-0 win over the Panthers on Monday. The hit forced the young Finn from the game, and also forced him to miss yesterday’s contest in Buffalo.
Abdelkader wasn’t fined or suspended for the hit and, according to the Sun-Sentinel, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety didn’t contact him at all.
It’s also worth pointing out that Abdelkader wasn’t penalized at the time of the incident.
But that didn’t stop Nick Bjugstad and head coach Gerard Gallant from calling the hit “cheap,” with Gallant suggesting Abdelkader left his feet to make the hit, and caught Barkov in the jaw.
Jokinen put the onus on the league to wipe out checks of this nature.
“There are too many hits like that an no suspensions,” he explained. “Fans want to watch Barkov, not those guys. The league has to do a better job of taking those hits out of the game.”
Florida and Detroit next play on Mar. 19, in case you’re wondering.