Brian Elliott Loses Focus, Blues Lose Game 3
The St. Louis Blues are one loss away from being swept out of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Kings. The Blues looked their best of the series in Game 3 but a brutal performance from Brian Elliott combined with some foolish penalties derailed the team’s hopes of jumping back into this series. The Blues now face a daunting task of trying to come back from a three games to zero hole – a feat that has only occurred three times in NHL history.
The book is quickly closing on the Blues in the 2012 NHL Playoffs. This fact alone is frustrating for Blues fans. To make matters worse, the Blues are about to exit the playoffs with a whimper, crumbling in the second round in a collapse that truly had to be seen to be believed.
The Blues entered the playoffs as the second seed in the West. They were one of the best teams in the NHL all season long and held on to the top overall spot in the NHL for great stretches of time. They entered the playoffs on a rough note, dropping several games and giving merit to the argument that the team might have peaked too soon and might be experiencing some chemistry issues with players returning from injury.
These thoughts evaporated when the Blues steamrolled the San Jose Sharks in the first round, however, the second round has exposed all of the team’s greatest problems. The Blues whipped San Jose mostly due to a strong power play that couldn’t be contained by the 29th penalty kill. The Blues were physical and dictated play.
Skip ahead to the current series and you see a St. Louis club that is folding and crumbling under the pressure. The Kings have exploited the Blues in every aspect of the game, from 5-on-5 play to special teams play. At no point have the Blues had an edge or carried any momentum beyond a couple of minutes. Every time the Blues look to be rounding into form, LA squashes any hopes of a comeback.
First, give LA credit. They are playing some extremely impressive hockey. At times it’s a bit out of control or even sloppy but they are making up for it by playing a perfect physical game the Blues can’t match. For every disruptive hit the Blues have the Kings answer with three of their own.
However, while I am able to admit LA has been the much better team I am left frustrated by the underwhelming performance from the boys in blue. If LA was to beat the Blues while the Blues were playing some sort of competent hockey, I doubt you’d see as much fire and anger from fans. At the very least you could say that the Blues tried.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. It’s hard to draw up an argument that shows the Blues have legitimately tried in the first three games of this series. Game 3 did see the Blues in better form but it also featured Brian Elliott in his worst form of the playoffs and possibly one of his worst forms of 2011-12. You had a great season Elliott but boy, you could not handle the pressure of this one. Elliott let in two extremely soft goals that gave Game 3 away to the Kings. Brutal, brutal goals and ultimately brutal shifts in momentum.
Elliott thrived in a role where he was challenged and pushed forward by Jaroslav Halak. The two shared the pressures of being a number one goaltender in the NHL, causing both men to thrive by splitting the responsibility. Halak left the playoffs in Game 2 against San Jose and Elliott came in and was superb in relief. One big point to note is that Halak’s status was mostly up in the air at this point. It wasn’t until after Game 2 in the current series that is was known that Halak was done for the second round, placing all the pressure directly on Brian Elliott. We all saw how he handled it in Game 3.
Rounding back to the original argument, the Blues have yet to play the type of hockey we saw all season long. Did they peak too soon? Was chemistry really an issue that was shrouded by a weak San Jose opponent? All are possibilities. We likely will never be able to point to one solid answer and will likely never know why a team that was playing well as a unit suddenly seems to be focused on individual agendas and playing like they have never met their teammates. The Blues have abandoned the team mentality. They have abandoned the “hard work” mentality. They sit on the edge of elimination because of it.
Game 4 sits ahead on Sunday and could potentially be the team’s last game of the year. Considering how they have played in their last three games the Blues deserve to be in the position they are in. As mentioned above, only three teams have come back from an 0-3 hole. The Blues should ignore this statistic and take things one game at a time. Game 4 is all that matters. The team can at least have some pride and save themselves and their fans a lot of embarrassment if they are at least able to avoid the sweep.
Let’s Go Blues.