The narrative following the Blues’ 3-2 loss to the Stars on Monday night will undoubtedly be about how the home team lacked energy. They were lethargic. They lacked a killer instinct.
But the truth is more painful.
The truth is the Blues are beating themselves.
Give the Stars credit: On the road, with their backs against the wall, they withstood 75 overall shot attempts from the Blues and still held on for victory.
Kari Lehtonen, who has endured much criticism since the start of the series, was incredible in the third period, halting scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity until his Stars were the last team standing.
Not be dismissive to Dallas’ best efforts, but this series should be over.
The Blues are deeper, more physical, employ the better goaltender, and boast a significant edge when it comes to defensive structure. How this series has reached a seventh game speaks to not only the Stars’ grit, but also to the Blues’ lack of resiliency when the stakes are highest.
Take the first period of Game 6, for example.
Despite the aforementioned narrative about how the Blues lacked energy, the first five minutes played out favorably for St. Louis. The Blues did an excellent job with puck possession, constantly dumping the puck in, cycling and forechecking in efforts to keep possession inside Dallas’ zone. If they lacked energy, it didn’t affect their execution.
The trouble began when Colton Parayko had his shot blocked by Mattias Janmark. Instead of passing to Jaden Schwartz up the boards to get the puck in deeper, Parayko took a shot, had it blocked, then had the puck bounce to Valeri Nichuskin, who fed Janmark on an easy breakaway and score to make it 1-0 Dallas.
The Stars’ second goal came when Brian Elliott essentially jump-started Dallas in the Blues’ own zone. He fed the puck to the boards, where Kris Russell was waiting to dump it back in. Colton Sceviour then carried the puck around net where he fed Vernon Fiddler, who beat Kevin Shattenkirk to slip the puck past Elliott stick-side.
The Stars’ third goal was a microcosm for how they entire night played out for the Blues and their faithful.
If Alex Pietrangelo threads the needle to Kyle Brodziak at center ice, Brodziak has a breakaway and perhaps the Blues are only staring at a 2-1 deficit.
Instead, John Klingberg makes a heck of a play to not only block Pietrangelo’s shot, but also feed a pass to Jamie Benn, who dumps the puck back into the Blues’ zone.
What happened next was a combination of bad luck (Jay Bouwmeester fell down, which created open space in the Blues’ defense) and pure skill.
Jason Spezza executed a perfect toe-drag to get around the stick of Scottie Upshall and bury the puck past Elliott to make it 3-0 Stars).
Let’s give the Stars their due: Sceviour’s pass that fed Fiddler was a thing of beauty, and Fiddler deserves credit for outworking Shattenkirk, who continues to struggle this postseason. Spezza’s goal, meanwhile, was all skill.
But the series of events in the first period is how a team falls behind 3-0 at home in an elimination game. Not lack of energy, not lethargy, not a lack of killer instinct: A pure failure of execution.
You can’t have two turnovers, a missed defensive assignment, a costly penalty and a touch of bad luck in one period and not stare down a deficit at the end of 20 minutes. Especially not against a team like Dallas, which has too much skill not to take advantage of miscues.
If the Blues wind up losing this series, we’ll look back on Games 4 and 6 with disgust.
They didn’t lose puck battles. They didn’t fail to buy into Ken Hitchcock’s system (which we’ve heard ad nauseam over the last five seasons). They didn’t receive poor play from the goaltender.
They beat themselves.
There’s no shame in losing to the Stars in seven games. After all, Dallas did rack up more points during the regular season than any team in the Western Conference.
The Blues can’t go down like this, though. They can’t feed their opponent opportunity after opportunity while missing not only the net, but their chance to capitalize on their most talented team under Hitchcock.
If the Blues lose, let defeat come versus a better, more talented team. That’s not the Stars.
And yet here we are, awaiting another Game Seven.