Minnesota's Nino Niederreiter scores an empty-net goal as Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo slides across the ice. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
For the second time in their first three first-round series games against Minnesota, the Blues came out with a flat effort and a loss. They're now just two defeats away from another first-round exit – and big changes in the off-season.For the second time in the first three games of their first-round series against Minnesota, the St. Louis Blues came out with a flat effort and were defeated by the Wild Monday. And at this stage in this team's development, every lost period, every missed chance and every non-victorious game brings the franchise closer to significant changes in this off-season. The Blues were held to just 17 shots in Game 3 en route to posting the first goalless game of these 2015 NHL playoffs and lost on the road in the post-season for the ninth consecutive game. Even worse, they played poorly enough to have starting goalie Jake Allen, who made 21 saves in the loss, make this stark statement after the game:
When you're getting ripped like that in public, it's time to start worrying, and not just about the rest of the series. If you have issues getting motivated at this time of year, that's not a positive indication of your core group. When you're resorting to trying (and failing) to intimidate the other team with your physicality and not your ability to score more goals than they do, that's a negative on the abilities of your team to produce in high-stakes situations. Of course, head coach Ken Hitchcock will likely be the first member of the organization to pay the price if the Blues wind out being ousted in the first round for the third consecutive playoff tournament. But he won't be the last. GM Doug Armstrong is going to have to look long and hard at a roster that, while certainly dominant in the regular-season, can't summon the willpower or chemistry to embark on a deep post-season run. Maybe that means exploring a trade for a player such as T.J. Oshie. Maybe that means using some of their admirable depth on defense to give them a different look up front. But they can't stand pat and make a few tweaks to this team. They're approaching San Jose Sharks levels of patience with them, and we're seeing now how that's turned out. The Blues went out last summer and signed center Paul Stastny away from Colorado to help them get over the hump in the playoffs. So far, Stastny hasn't registered a single point in the three games. Neither have Oshie or captain David Backes. Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been sensational for Minnesota for months now, but that can't be an excuse for the Blues or their key players. There have been excuses every year. Sooner or later, you have to either overcome them or be defined by the losses. St. Louis isn't quite there yet – a win in Minnesota Wednesday would make the series a best-of-three and restore home ice advantage to the Blues – but you can feel the clouds for them looming just out of frame. They're going to need someone to take the reins in short order to turn this thing around, because one more effort like the one in Game 3 is going to put them on the brink of playoff elimination, and when they get to that stage, they're almost certainly not going to be able to recover. The Wild may well win another round or two – heck, you can see them giving any team a scare the way Dubnyk is playing – but none of that will resonate in St. Louis. All Blues fans will remember is another lost opportunity, and another strong prelude followed by a letdown when the games really counted. And in a market where the team does need to win to get people coming to games, that label of being a chronic underachieving group will lead to new faces, behind the bench and on it, next year.
Allen: "They fought for 60 minutes and unfortunately tonight, we didn't at all." #stlblues— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) April 21, 2015