ST. LOUIS - Few teams in the NHL suffered as many key injuries as the St. Louis Blues did during the regular season. Saturday night in a 3-1 loss to the L.A. Kings in Game 1 of the second round, the Blues may have taken their biggest hit yet.
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues leader in ice time in both the regular season and playoffs, left with 1:13 to play in the second period after didn't return following a head first hit into the boards by the L.A. Kings' Dwight King.
King was assessed a two-minute boarding penalty on the play after checking the 22-year-old from behind. Pietrangelo hit chin-first into the boards and fell to the ice, eventually skating off under his own power as a stream of blood dripped from his chin.
The 6-3 Pietrangelo never returned for the third period and wasn't available for comment after the game. His status for Monday's Game 2 is up in the air with what coach Ken Hitchcock seemed to indicate was a possible concussion.
"He's our key guy back there so it's tough to lose him," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. "Especially when you're down a goal in a game like that, you want to have all the offensive fire power you can back there and he's someone who we look to in those situations. It's tough not having him."
The second-seeded Blues went on the power play following the hit with a chance to take the lead late in the second period. They instead suffered a disaster scenario, giving up a shorthanded goal to Matt Greene to enter the locker room trailing 2-1.
The Blues were shorthanded for eight minutes in the third period, including a period of nearly six straight minutes as they attempted to overcome the loss of Pietrangelo and tie the game. They were unable to do so, giving up an empty netter late to drop Game 1 at home for the second straight series.
"He controls the game," said Blues captain David Backes. "He's our best defenseman and probably our best player so if you're missing that, you're missing a lot. But we have other guys that need to step up and take more responsibility and get the job done."
Of gaining a two-minute penalty while losing Pietrangelo for the remainder of the game and possibly longer, Backed added, "That's not a very good trade for us."
Some thought the hit deserved more than a two-minute penalty, but it appeared Pietrangelo lost his balance just as the hit occurred. Referees apparently missed a cut on his lip, which would have automatically resulted in a five-minute major.
"He got off the ice, there was no visible blood," said NHL supervisor of officiating Kay Whitmore. "If it was running down his forehead or his cheek, it's automatic. It's a major game-misconduct. In this instance, they didn't see it initially right away.
"It was a hit, he was in a vulnerable position, but they didn't deem it violent enough to call a major."
Pietrangelo was the fourth overall pick by the Blues in the 2008 draft. He made his NHL debut later that year at age 18, appearing in eight games and logging one point.
Just four years later he's evolved into one of the top defenseman in the league at 22 years old. He was fifth among all defenseman with 51 points in the regular season, which was also good for third most on the Blues.
He became the youngest player in club history to record back-to-back 40-point seasons and was the second defenseman in Blues history to have six game-winning goals and six power-play goals in the same season.
The 6-3 Pietrangelo logged an eye-popping 26:15 per game in the first round against San Jose. He had three assists in the first round and took the shot Saturday that was deflected by Backes for the Blues first goal of the night.
Safe to say the Blues would take a serious hit should the rising star not be able to play in Game 2 on Monday.
"He's obviously one of our best players and you can't replace him," said forward Andy McDonald. "We're going to need guys to step up and elevate their play. I don't know his condition but if he can't play next game, we have to find a way to replace him."
Added Hitchcock, "If he's not in, then somebody else gets to jump up. That's just the way it is in the playoffs. It's not a six-month season. It's a six-week season, so somebody will have to step up and elevate their game. That's what people do."
The Blues did a remarkable job overcoming injuries in the regular season, finishing just two points shy of the President's Trophy despite missing more than 300 man games due to injury.
Already trailing 1-0 in the best of seven series, the Blues' resolve might be put to the test yet again.