Blues Fail to Capitalize on Opportunities, Fall in 2nd OT
After a dominant first period of overtime it appeared the Blues were one good bounce from taking Game 1 in front of a raucous Scottrade Center crowd. However, upon failing to convert on numerous chances in the first OT the Blues entered the second OT period sluggish and were caught napping, allowing the San Jose Sharks to bury the winner. The series still has plenty of twists and turns in store but you can easily chalk this up has a huge blow to morale and a huge missed opportunity for the St. Louis Blues.
Everything seemed to be lined up for the Blues tonight. On the eighth year anniversary of their last win in the playoffs (against San Jose, no less), the Blues entered the 2012 NHL Playoffs in an unfamiliar position – as the favorite. Though lacking experience, the Blues mostly rolled through the regular season, steamrolling the Sharks four separate times.
At least this time the Blues didn’t lose on a weird bounce or a crazy shot from the red line, right? History has proven that the Blues tend to lose on some extremely unnatural plays. The fact remains no matter how you slice it, a loss in the second period of overtime hurts – regardless of how the puck goes in. It hurts even more when the club dominates the first period of extra time.
The Blues had plenty of space and plenty of chances to win Game 1 in the first overtime. They launched plenty of rubber in Antti Niemi’s direction. Niemi sprawled and contorted his body to keep every St. Louis opportunity out.
Does Niemi deserve all the credit? He deserves a lot, yes, but he certainly doesn’t deserve it all. The Blues did a great job of beating themselves in this one too. Think back to the final few minutes of the third period when the Blues let San Jose level the score when victory was within reach. The Blues were caught off guard and BANG – the game is tied. A similar description can be used for the OT periods. The first OT was ruled by the Blues and the game appeared to yet again be within reach. The second OT starts, the Blues all end up standing around and BANG – game over, thanks for playing.
This goes to show you how other teams in the NHL can, and will, capitalize on mistakes – especially in the playoffs. The Sharks had just a handful of opportunities in the third period and two overtime periods yet they walk out the victor because they can finish their chances. The Blues had an enormous edge in terms of pure overall chances as well as a dominant edge in shots fired, 42-31. What the Blues lacked, and have lacked at times in the regular season, is that killer instinct to take a team and bury them. They have lacked what the Sharks possessed tonight – that ability to take one mistake, one mental lapse or one bounce and light the lamp because of it when the game is on the line.
The Blues did play very well tonight. Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrik Berglund were huge and without them this game could have easily been lost in regulation. However, where many Blues played solid if not great tonight, one was to wonder why Jaroslav Halak looked so shaky in the overtime periods. It was rather obvious that the pressure of the moment was getting to him as the he stumbled over several pucks in the OT periods. The nail in the coffin by Martin Havlat (his 2nd of the night) may not have been a big blunder by Halak, but it was rather apparent which goaltender on the ice seemed to be trembling in his pads each time the puck came near by.
Realistically, this is just one game. The Blues have plenty of time to right the ship. However, they have made the path to the second round a whole lot harder. They have with one flick of a wrist lost home ice advantage for this series. Suddenly, Game 2 on Saturday night looks a lot more like a must-win game than it did earlier this evening.
In order to win Game 2 the Blues need to do more of what they did tonight but stretch it out a bit more. They had so many positives in Game 1 that it’s pretty shocking they came out on the losing end. In Game 2, the Blues need to prepare for a San Jose club that just received a huge boost in the morale department. The Blues need to capitalize on their opportunities and keep driving to the net – an area they shied away from as OT ticked on.
Most importantly, the Blues have now learned that one tiny mental or physical error can be the difference between winning in regulation, winning in OT, or getting shocked in double OT in front of your home crowd.
Next game is Saturday. Same time, same place. Let’s all hope it has a better result or this series could get ugly in a hurry.