The St. Louis Blues have come a long way since the disastrous 2005-06 season, which saw the team post a 21-46-15 record. This added up to 57 points, which was the franchise’s lowest in 27 years. Since then, the team has risen through the fog and climbed the NHL mountain.
The Blues’ achievements include winning a Central Division title, making the playoffs for two consecutive seasons with personnel earning hardware in the process (general manager Doug Armstrong, head coach Hitchcock and goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott took home separate trophies at the 2012 NHL Awards Show). With some key acquisitions and young players making the leap to the NHL, the Blues’ sights are set at winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship.
But the team has met a hurdle for the past two seasons and it seems are destined for a third. The Los Angeles Kings just will not move out of the Blues’ way.
In 2011-12, the Blues met the Kings on four occasions. Not only did the Kings win the series (3-1-0), they outscored St. Louis, 8-3.
After the Blues won their first playoff series since before the 2004-05 lockout (defeating the San Jose Sharks 4-1), they ran into a hot Kings lineup who had just knocked off the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks. The Kings dominated the series, sweeping the Blues out of the playoffs en route to winning the first Stanley Cup in the organization’s history.
The 2012-13 season wasn’t any better, as the Kings took the season series, 3-0 (while outscoring the Blues 14-7 in the process). The two teams battled yet again in the first round of the playoffs and the Blues surprised the Kings with a 2-0 series lead. Goaltender Jonathan Quick shut the Blues out in Game 3 and never looked back, winning four straight games to oust the Blues for the second straight postseason.
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When the 2013-14 schedule was released over the summer, everyone in the Blues’ front office circled the Dec. 2 game against the Kings on their calendars. The Blues bolstered their lineup over the summer, adding toughness on the bottom-two lines with Brenden Morrow and Maxim Lapierre suiting up. Derek Roy and Magnus Paajarvi also were inserted to provide the Blues with depth.
The Blues jumped out to an impressive 18-4-3 record to open the season, earning the second spot in the Central Division to open December. Despite an excruciating 6-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks three nights prior, the Blues had to be ready for this game. Surely, this would be the Blues’ time to shut down the critics and put their best foot forward.
Not this time.
The Blues failed to capitalize on a power play 18 seconds into the game, generating just one shot with the extra man. The Kings went on to take control of the game from there, adding two goals later in the period. The first tally came with a monumental screen on goaltender Jaroslav Halak and the second goal, which occurred after a Drew Doughty shot rang off the crossbar, saw youngster Tyler Toffoli all alone with a rebound in front of the net.
Toffoli added another goal in the second period and the Blues’ only regular-season matchup in Los Angeles followed suit with their woes in the seasons prior.
Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko added late third-period goals to cut the Kings’ lead to 3-2, but it was too little too late for the team looking to get not just a monkey, but a gorilla off their back.
The Blues were 0-3 on the power play with a measly three shots on the advantages. The Kings also took the advantage in faceoffs, 37-25.
“It’s another team that is a hard team to play against, that’s going to be in the playoffs, that’s won a Cup recently, that we’ve had to battle against the past couple of years in the playoffs,” captain David Backes told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “So we had something to prove.”
Accompanied with the loss in San Jose, the Blues are now facing their first losing streak of the young season. They welcome the New York Islanders to town Thursday night and will look to revive their winning ways.
The Blues will have to wait until January to avenge their loss to the 2012 Cup champs. Although the Kings will not host the Blues for the remainder of the season, they will face off two more times at Scottrade Center on Jan. 2 and 16.
The next clash in L.A. could very well be in the 2014 postseason.
If the Blues are going to take the next step to elite level, they will need to find a way to overcome the shutdown play of the Kings.