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Blues comeback effort falls short in Game 6 loss

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The St. Louis Blues had an opportunity at home Monday night—with history on their side—to advance to the Western Conference Finals with a Game 6 win over the Dallas Stars. The Blues hadn’t reached the final four since 2001, making it in 1986 before that. Blues Nation was feeling the fifteen-year itch.

Based upon their performance in the first period Monday, the players may not share the sentiment.

The Blues looked sluggish and unprepared on home-ice during the first period of Monday night’s 3-2 loss to the Stars. Despite their best efforts to climb back into the game, the three goal deficit built early in the first period was too much for the Note to overcome, as they failed to conjure an equalizing goal in the game’s waning moments. The loss sets up a winner-take-all Game 7 to be played in Dallas Wednesday night.

“It was a couple unfortunate bounces ended up in our net early,” Alexander Steen said. “It’s a big hole to dig yourselves out of in the playoffs. We made an attempt, we played well after giving up the third one. We certainly had our fair share of chances to tie it up.”

Though Ken Hitchcock was encouraged by his players’ resilience in turning a three goal deficit into a one-goal loss, the stark reality of failing to close—a trademark of Hitchcock-coached Blues squads in recent years—the reality of the loss stings for St. Louis.

The Stars came out and punched the Blues in the mouth with two goals in rapid succession early in the first period. Another Stars goal on a power play was enough to convince Ken Hitchcock a change was necessary. He pulled Brian Elliott in favor of Jake Allen immediately after the deficit grew to 3-0 in the first period. Though Elliott wasn’t solely responsible for the pillaging, Hitchcock couldn’t stand idly by as his team fumbled its chance to clinch at home.

Down three, the Blues required some determination and desperation to climb out of the hole they had dug. They showed both qualities when they strung together a couple tough shifts in the second period, concluding with an Alexander Steen goal off a rebound of a Robert Bortuzzo shot.

Though the Stars carried the dreaded two-goal lead into the third period, the Blues couldn’t capitalize. They stammered on shot opportunities in the third period, and despite swarming around the puck in the offensive zone, were unable to produce quality scoring opportunities.

They earned only one goal in the frame. Nearly nine minutes into the third, the Blues possessed the puck off a face-off in their offensive zone. Jori Lehtera received a puck in front of the net, and twirled an expert pass behind his back. The puck met a waiting Patrick Berglund for the easy goal, the Blues’ second of the night. With the home team down just one, the crowd had all the justification it needed for a full-throttle uproar.

Even with everybody in the building behind them, the Blues just couldn’t muster another goal.

“When we made it 3-2 we thought we were gonna win the hockey game,” Hitchcock said. “There wasn’t a guy on the bench who didn’t think we were gonna win the hockey game. And we didn’t.

“So there’s disappointment, we’ll get over that tomorrow and we’ll get there (Dallas), we’ll get focused and we’ll play really well again.”

The Blues had a few chances down the stretch in the third period, but their intensity didn’t translate to productive execution, as their offensive output was ceased at two for the evening. The early three-goal deficit was just too much for the Blues to overcome. 

“I think the goal that hurt us the most was the third goal,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve been down 2-0 a million times this year, we were looking to go on a breakaway and next thing you know, it’s a fluke goal that ends up in our net—and ends up being the winning goal.”

For the Blues to regroup and come up with a Game 7 win on the road, they’ll  have to surmount considerable adversity. While it’s nothing they haven’t done before in 2016, it’s going to take one more magical win to keep their season alive. 

Whether Allen or Elliott will be in net has not yet been determined, but Allen understands Elliott has been a major part of why the Blues have been so successful this season.

“Ells’ has been our rock the whole playoffs so far,” Allen said. “He’s the ultimate pro and he’ll definitely be ready. He’s been our best player on the team the whole playoffs. He’ll definitely be ready to go.”

Regardless of who is minding the net, the Blues will be ready. They’ll have to be. The weight of years of postseason disappointment will be weighing on their shoulders. Alexander Steen doesn’t jump immediately to a pressurized outlook on another Game 7, though. He’s ready to have some fun.

“Enjoy the moment,” Steen said. “It’s Game 7. Let’s go get one.”

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