Facing the Colorado Avalanche was always going to be a daunting task for this St. Louis Blues team. However, it felt like a near Herculean feat given the amount of injuries and illnesses the Blues had gone through.
St. Louis was hoping a new venue and a larger home crowd than they’d had all year would boost them. Still, they were without two key defenders with Justin Faulk and Robert Bortuzzo out after dirty hits laid on them in Game 2.
Even in a fully healthy lineup, there would have been uncertainty. With the roster the Blues put out, there was doubt and anxiety.
The first couple minutes of the first period did not help. While the Blues had plenty of jump, they were also careless.
Failing to get the puck out of their own zone, they gave up a two-on-one and almost surrendered a goal 30 seconds in again. Colorado kept them hemmed in for much of the first few minutes, but once things stayed scoreless, the Blues picked up their game.
St. Louis started connecting on hits that did not take them out of the play. They also started feeling their way into the contest offensively.
The Blues didn’t get a ton of opportunities to trouble the goaltender in the first 20 minutes, but at least they got pucks on net. On top of that, they seemed to take a bit of the pace out of the Avalanche’s game.
St. Louis played with fire, taking a foolish late hit for an interference call. However, an ensuing power play of their own got the building rocking even if there was not a goal.
The crowd was buzzing. The first ended scoreless, but the Blues had made a mark.
Unfortunately, it was all for naught. Despite a pretty good first and a solid start to the second, the Avalanche got the lucky break and made the most of it.
With both teams taking penalties at the end of the first, each team had a man in the box. The Avs cleared the puck right when the men were coming out and Jordan Binnington hesitated coming out of his net, allowing a relatively easy goal for Colorado to gain a 1-0 lead at with 18:03 left.
The Blues bounced back. They started hitting and putting pressure on net again, but it didn’t matter.
Sammy Blais took a stupid crosschecking penalty in the offensive zone. Despite the Blues killing it off, Colorado came down on a partial break, fired a shot off Binnington’s left pad and the rebound went right to their second man in who buried an empty net goal to make it 2-0.
It felt done at 2-0, but the Avalanche seemed to put the nail in the coffin at 3-0. Tyson Jost, who should have not been in the lineup after knocking Robert Bortuzzo out, scored on a rebound.
The Blues challenged for goalie interference and failed. Somehow, Tyler Bozak scored shorthanded to give the Blues life, but they were still on life support.
The Blues put some more pressure on, but they just could not solve the goaltending. Additionally, the only thing they seemed to do well was penalty kill bad calls.
The Avalanche took advantage of the Blues defense joining the rush. They countered late in the game, connected on a nice pass and then former Blackhawk Brandon Saad slipped a backhander in to make it 4-1.
Cons: No puck luck
The crappy thing about this game, other than the loss in and of itself, is the fact that people will see the final score and think the Blues didn’t even show up. The truth is they had one of their best sustained efforts in the entire series and just could not get the bounces.
Offensively, the Blues matched the Avalanche for long periods. The difference was Colorado got the big saves while Binnington had no chance because of this bad break or that lucky bounce.
Let’s not kid anyone that Colorado was lucky to win this game. They played hard and deserved to win.
However, this was nowhere near a 5-1 game. With the way the Blues played, if they lost, it should have been 2-1 with Colorado getting a late goal.
Twitter was aflame with fans saying how much the Blues suck and to blow things up, but come on.
The first goal is a bad break where a centering pass gets by the Blues defender, the Avs tap it out and their guy came out of the box at the right time. The second goal is an explosive rebound that nobody could control that led to an empty net goal.
The third goal had possible interference as Binnington’s glove was disrupted. Even then, it came from a bad angle that would miss 50% of the time.
St. Louis held the Avs top line down quite well. They just couldn’t capitalize due to bad luck and good goaltending.
This game was much more what any of us would consider Blues hockey. St. Louis was hitting anything that moved, but did not put themselves a mile out of position to do so.
The reason this is good is because how smart the Blues were about it. With the exception of the Blais penalty, none of the Blues penalties were because they overextended to make a hit.
The reason this is a bad thing is because it’s too little/too late. If St. Louis had hit the Avs this way in the first game, or even the second with consistency, you could make the argument they’d wear the Avs down and get back into the series even after a loss.
With this not coming until Game 3, the best the Blues have done is wear down the Avs for their next opponent. Even if St. Louis wins Game 4, there’s just not enough time to really put the hurt on them and get the offense humming.
Still, while it’s a very small concession, it was good to see the Blues putting these smug opponents into the walls.
Cons: Too much uncertainty
While this has little to do with this game and more to do with the grand scheme, it still impacted this game. There’s just so many questions coming out of this contest.
Firstly, while I highly doubt he would have made any difference in the outcome, we were led to believe that Vince Dunn has been skating for quite some time. With two of your main defenders out and two guys getting their first playoff action, Dunn could not step up and say he was ready to go?
Maybe he’s far more injured than we have been aware. I’m not going to call someone out when you never know the true nature of hockey injuries until after the year. Still, doesn’t look good on the eye test.
On top of that, while there was every chance simply switching to home ice might change things, why not give Klim Kostin a look? Zach Sanford has all but played himself out of a top-nine role and maybe onto the scratch list next season. Kyle Clifford‘s inclusion made sense originally, but not as the series has gone on.
Kostin has no experience, but maybe youthful exuberance would have been a shot in the arm. He couldn’t have been any worse than what anyone else has provided through three games.
I’ve prided myself on being one of those fans that always thinks there’s a chance. Mathematically, there is until Colorado wins that fourth game, but if we are real, this series is over.
Even at their best, with the players that are missing and even if you got one or two back, there’s no way the Blues win four-straight games. It’s disappointing because, despite what naysayers believe, this Blues team could have put a big dent in Colorado.
Instead, they’ve fueled the fire of everyone who wants to shower the Avalanche with praise and hand them the Cup. They’ve given rise to the trolls who think the Blues have to counter what the Avs have done instead of simply playing up to their own capabilities, which they have not.
This game was frustrating, but maybe it was for the best. With St. Louis playing well and still getting blown out on the scoreboard, we can all come to terms with the ultimate ending a little better.
The Blues are better than they’ve shown, but the Avs are clearly better than I gave them credit for. I still do not believe they will win the Cup this season, but the Blues have just not done enough to prove anyone think any different than Colorado winning it all.
We’ll see if the Blues can avoid the sweep on Sunday.