The script to the Stanley Cup Finals has taken an unexpected twist for the St. Louis Blues.
After dispatching the San Jose Sharks in five games, the Blues appeared on cruise control in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. The only discordant note of an otherwise beautiful symphony of hockey was an injury to starter Jaroslav Halak, which pressed backup Brian Elliott into service. But Elliott’s stats included nine shutouts, and numbers which sparkled against the background of the NHL goaltender statistics. Few anticipated any problems against the eighth seeded Los Angeles Kings.
The Blues now head to Los Angeles down 2-0 in their best of seven series. The last game…a 5-2 loss to the Kings…left many of the Blues and their fans shaking their heads. The Blues came out flat and found themselves on the wrong side of a 4-0 deficit after only the first period.
“It was embarrassing, the work ethic we had as a team, I think,” Blues player T.J. Oshie said after Game 2. ”For our team defence to be that poor, it’s embarrassing. … There were a lot of guys running around. Everyone’s working hard, but they’re not working hard and using their head at the same time. We’ve got to work hard but work smart.”
The Blues have run into a brick wall in Kings’ netminder Jonathan Quick. Quick has been absolutely outstanding in these playoffs, and has largely gone unnoticed by most hockey pundits until now. His play this past season has earned him a Vezina trophy nomination, and, given his importance to the Kings, should have garnered a Hart trophy nomination as well. No Quick, no playoffs for the Kings.
So the Blues now face a daunting task…the Kings have found some weaknesses in the Blues’ armor, and they face a goaltender playing at his peak. Game 3 will be the turning point of the series for the Blues. A win, and they are back in the series. A loss, and it’s a long climb to win the series. Regardless of the venue, the Blues need to put forth their best effort to date in these playoffs in Game 3. They need to find a way to solve Quick. While this may be an obvious statement, there is also no statement more true. To solve Quick is to slow down the Kings’ roll and gain some St. Louis momentum.
It’s too soon for the music to end for the St. Louis Blues.