Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 4/29/12
ST. LOUIS Not good enough. The St. Louis Blues' effort after the first period Saturday wasn't good enough to beat the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. It wasn't good enough to please coach Ken Hitchcock, and it wasn't good enough for them to leave Scottrade Center thinking they hold a major advantage at home. Yes, the Blues lost 3-1 and found themselves with a 1-0 series deficit for the second time in these playoffs because the Kings were sharper both with their play and mental approach. Above all, the highest remaining seed in the Western Conference lost because it grew complacent. A team capable of winning the Stanley Cup doesn't give up a shorthanded goal early in the second period to defenseman Matt Greene, a mistake that proved to be the decisive score. A team capable of winning the Stanley Cup doesn't experience a lapse in intensity after a strong start, so much so that Hitchcock said his players "deferred" to a group that upset the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in five games in the last round. A team capable of winning the Stanley Cup doesn't rack up four penalties for a total of 18 minutes in the third period, a sign of frustration and a clear lack of focus. Sure, the Blues overcame a Game 1 loss to the San Jose Sharks in the last round. They recovered, and they looked dominant in claiming the next four. But the Kings are better. They have shown that they know how to beat St. Louis by winning the regular-season series 2-1-1. They have shown that they are much more dangerous than their No. 8 seed would suggest. Simply put: The Blues must improve to advance to their first Western Conference finals since 2001. And they must do it fast. "It's not a six-month season it's a six-week season. So somebody will have to step up and elevate their game," Hitchcock said. "That's what people do. We need much better play from our top players much more committed play from our top players if we expect to move on and win a hockey game on Monday (in Game 2)." Such a statement from Hitchcock would have seemed unlikely a few hours earlier. The Blues began the night much like they ended their series against the Sharks. They attacked the net. They made goalie Jonathan Quick scramble. They jumped ahead with a score from center David Backes a little more than nine minutes into the game. They looked like a team that finished with a 30-6-5 record at home in the regular season. But things changed fast. A goal by Kings defenseman Slava Voynov about seven minutes later started the slide. Then came Greene's shorthanded score, only the second by a defenseman in Kings playoffs history (Rob Blake in 1993 was the first). Meanwhile, the Blues blew chances on two power plays in the second period before beginning their sloppy display in the third. "Giving up a shorthanded goal at the end of the second was not ideal by any means," said Backes, who earned his second point of the postseason. "We kind of took a rest, and they stayed going. As a result, we didn't get enough traffic after that and didn't win enough battles. As a result, we're digging out of a 1-0 hole." And as a result, Backes and the rest of the Blues must regroup. Make no mistake: This series will be competitive. The team that exploits mental lapses and takes advantage of small breaks will advance with such a thin difference separating the two, especially with elite talents like Quick (28 saves) and Brian Elliott (26) in front of their respective nets. On Saturday, the Kings did what was needed to steal a victory on the road their second at Scottrade Center this season and they earned the right to skate into another hostile setting Monday knowing they're capable of ousting the Western Conference's top two teams. For their part, the Blues responded to the loss much like they did after the defeat to San Jose on April 12. There was reflection, as there should have been. But there also was recognition that this series has the potential to last six or seven games. Consequently, lessons can be drawn from disappointment. This is no longer a team without perspective in the postseason. The Blues grew up while routing the Sharks in the last series, and they'll have a chance Monday to show more maturity. "I thought we were the better team in the first period, then they took over," Blues winger Alexander Steen said. "In the third period, it was tough for us to get some momentum. There was a lot of time in the (penalty) box. It's a tough loss, but we've got to rebound, and we have a big game here Monday." Said Blues winger Andy McDonald: "I thought the game was a lot more wide open than I expected. I expected a tighter checking game. Even on our side, I think we gave up too many chances odd-man rushes. We certainly don't want to give up that many chances and play that wide open. I was surprised by how the game went." The Blues' mistakes in Game 1 were surprising especially after a strong finish to their previous series and a positive start Saturday. Those lapses can't continue or their surprising season will end soon.
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