None of the other first-round exits will sting this sharp, cut this deep.
What do you call the opposite of a Cinderella story?
As the Minnesota Wild — renting the type of cheap, timely goaltending performance that forever seems to elude St. Louis — galloped off to a second-round showdown with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Blues were the embodiment of their namesake. All smashed pumpkins and tattered outfits.
The 2014-15 St. Louis Blues are this year’s sad Joe Thornton gif face.
“If I had answers, I’d have solved this a long time ago,” captain David Backes told reporters.
His eyes were as wet as the offence was dry.
For the third consecutive spring, St. Louis entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a 100-plus-point* regular-season club.
And for the third consecutive spring, the Blues were dismissed in six games while starting a different goaltender, playing a different opponent and mustering just a single goal in their elimination game.
“It sucks,” Backes said. “There’s no other summary of it than it sucks. We put a lot into the regular season to get into the playoffs, and rather than go up a notch to beat a team, we’re on our heels too much and they take it to us.”
While Backes himself could be the subject of a change of scenery — the 30-year-old centre has one more year left on his deal and scored just six points total in the Blues’ last three series — all eyes now turn to head coach Ken Hitchcock.
A Stanley Cup winner with Dallas in 1999 and a highly regarded master of the defensive game, Hitchcock has a 12-25 playoff record (one series victory) since 2003-04, and after Sunday’s 4-1 loss, he looked like his heart had been torn out.
He said not to blame young goaltender Jake Allen. He said his team did not lack resiliency. He said the timely goals were absent, that the Blues were chasing the game.
“I feel sorry for Hitchcock. They’ll probably gas him now,” Don Cherry said Monday morning on Sportsnet’s Dean Blundell & Co., echoing a popular opinion in the hockey world. “They don’t have the goaltending–simple as that. And if you don’t have the goaltending, you’re not going to win.”
Defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk leaves the playoffs with a league-best eight assists. He didn’t hesitate when asked by reporters if change is coming to St. Louis, a club that has been all-in in during free agency (Paul Stastny) and at the trade deadline (Ryan Miller) in pursuit of its first Cup.
“I would assume so. Army [GM Doug Armstrong] is not a guy who’s going to sit back and let this happen year after year,” said Shattenkirk. But he doesn’t believe firing Hitchock is the answer. “Hitch has been the reason why we’ve been here for four years.”
Meanwhile, Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie, Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny and Backes — all regular-season offensive threats — had just one goal each in the series.
After 2014’s first-round disappointment to Chicago, Hitchcock and friend Armstrong agreed to the mutual one-year option left on his deal.
Now that year is up.
We see this case as one similar to the one that faced Nashville Predators and Barry Trotz at the end of last season: No new extension will be reached, a defence-first team will begin to become more offence-minded, and Hitchcock will join Todd McLellan (and possibly Mike Babcock) in the free-agent coaching market.
If Hitchcock is let go, defensively weak teams in search of a new bench boss — Toronto, San Jose, Philadelphia, Edmonton (new GM Peter Chiarelli and Hitchcock have a Hockey Canada connection) — would be foolish not to take a good, hard look.
*prorating 2012-13’s standings points over a full 82-game schedule.