The Blues still have a four-point edge over Los Angeles, their closest – and only real – pursuer in the Western Conference, and their game Thursday at San Jose is a bit of a landmark. Once the Blues get past that game, their schedule becomes ...and more »
ANAHEIM, CALIF. • Blues coach Mike Yeo thinks one of the things that has driven his team late in the season has been a sense of desperation. With a playoff spot hanging in the balance, the team went on a five-game win streak that gave them a cushion that, while not safe, was at least more comfortable than it had been before.So maybe that extra bit of safety was the difference on Wednesday night. The Blues were lacking an edge, especially offensively, as they saw their win streak end in a 2-1 loss to the Ducks at Honda Center. The Blues had a chance to move into a tie for third with Nashville with a win (and they have the edge on the tiebreaker) but that will have to wait at least another day. Maybe it will be Thursday, when the Blues play at San Jose, though it might well be later, since the Predators are in action on Thursday as well. The Ducks had something at stake as well, with the win moving them back into second place in the Pacific Division as red-hot Calgary had its 10-game winning streak snapped by Boston.The Blues still have a four-point edge over Los Angeles, their closest – and only real – pursuer in the Western Conference, and their game Thursday at San Jose is a bit of a landmark. Once the Blues get past that game, their schedule becomes phenomenally easy, with only two of their final 12 opponents in playoff range at the moment and eight games against teams whose seasons are, in effect, over. But first they have to get there.
“I really felt,” Yeo said, “especially at the start of the second period, we came out, considering we're down a goal, without the intensity that we needed. It showed up in our execution, it showed up in our ability to create turnovers and get on the forecheck. If we had one guy, he wasn't hard enough, and if he was, the next guy wasn't to be found. We've got to find a way to be better tomorrow.”“They capitalized on a couple little plays,” center Paul Stastny said, “and then it was too little, too late.”Actually, it was more like too little too early. After Ivan Barbashev scored midway through the third period, that seemed to charge up the Blues, but those 10 minutes couldn't overcome the 50 minutes that had gone before. In the second period, with the game hanging in the balance, the Blues had just seven shots on goal.“We wanted to do that as many minutes as possible out of 60,” forward Magnus Paajarvi said. “Maybe not just the last 10, more like 50.”The troubles were more on offense than defense. With five minutes to go in the second period, the Ducks had just eight shots on goal, though they had scored on two of them. While the Blues had more shots, the chances and the pressure they wanted weren't there. The Blues had two power plays with a chance to tie the game but didn't score, and worst of all, gave up a short-handed goal on one of them to make things even worse.“We just weren't creating enough,” Yeo said. “I didn't feel that sustained pressure. You could feel that the momentum was starting to shift, when we had an opportunity to grab the game or get into the game, and we didn't take advantage of it.”Blues goalie Jake Allen, who came into the game with a perfect 5-0 record in his career against the Ducks, faced just 22 shots on goal, one of his easiest games in a month, and wasn't called on to make many big saves but he couldn't rescue the Blues when two mistakes in front of him proved costly.
The Blues had scored first in their previous five games, which all turned out to be wins. That streak ended less than six minutes into the game. Jay Bouwmeester was passing the puck out of the corner behind Allen to Stastny, but Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf got his stick on it and redirected the puck in front of the net to Rickard Rakell, whose quick shot from just outside the crease beat Allen for the goal.Since Yeo took over, the Blues had scored first in 13 of the 18 games coming into the night, and gone 11-2 in those games. Not only had the Blues been scoring first, but they'd been keeping the lead. During the five-game win streak, the only time they trailed was when Anaheim had gone up 2-1 last week before the Blues rallied for a 4-3 win.“It's a luxury to have, but it's one that I don't anticipate we'll have going forward,” Yeo said before the game. “What we ask our guys to do is be ready for the start, to have a good start and get to our game, but we have to be ready for whatever follows. If we score first, there's a lot of hockey left and we're going to expect a push from the other team. And if they score first, we have to find a way to climb back in the game. That's been our mentality and that won't change.”
The Blues got a power play five minutes later, and almost scored. Alexander Steen had a shot go off the post and the rebound came to Vladimir Tarasenko, who had an open side of the net to aim for but his shot went wide.The hole got deeper in the second period when Anaheim scored a short-handed goal. With Patrick Eaves in the box for tripping, the Ducks got the puck out of the Blues end and Andrew Cogliano skated it into the Blues' zone. He left a drop pass to, well, no one except for the Blues' Ivan Barbashev and Nail Yakupov, who were apparently befuddled by the development and failed to get the puck. Getzlaf, trailing the play, was the beneficiary, skating on to the play and shooting past Allen. It was the fifth short-handed goal allowed by the Blues this season and the eighth for the Ducks, who are among the league leaders in that category.“Somebody got their stick on the puck and it went back,” Barbashev said, “and I turned and tried to block the shot. It was a good shot I guess.”“Yeah, it was one of those nights,” Yeo said. “I'm not going to point to that as the reason we lost the game. Collectively we weren't good enough.”The Blues couldn't score on a power play in the third period but cut the margin to one with 9:52 to play on a goal by Barbashev. He skated the puck into the Ducks' zone, dropped a pass for Paajarvi, who sent across to Barbashev, now at the far post, who redirected it for his third NHL goal.“I didn't see the puck until I got it on my stick, to be honest,” Barbashev said. “It was a great play by Magnus, and all I had to do was put the puck in the net.”Allen went went to the bench with about 2:10 to go but those final minutes were more noteworthy for the Blues sprawling to block the Sharks from scoring than for their offensive chances.“You can feel every game intensifies now,” Paajarvi said. “We're coming to the end, we need to be on your toes every game. It was a tough game in LA, we battled through that one. Today was a little bit harder to get going. We got going in the third, it wasn't enough though.”