When the sting of being the first team eliminated from these playoffs wears off in the coming days and weeks, the St. Louis Blues should realize they actually have a lot to be proud of.
And even more to look forward to.
The Blues will figure that out. And then they'll understand that getting swept by a very good Vancouver Canucks team doesn't diminish what they have accomplished. This has been nothing less than a transformational season for the Blues, one that has put them on a fast track for the future and reconnected them with a deep rooted fan base.
That's a major step forward for a team that wasn't supposed to be anywhere near here. The Blues organization has been in a downward spiral for much of the decade and began this season still in rebuilding mode, looking to give its fine collection of recently drafted talent the opportunity to develop without the pressure of expectations. It was a modest plan, but it became more challenging than anticipated because St. Louis was hit with several long term injuries to key personnel.
The impact was as debilitating as one might expect and St. Louis found itself last in the West as late as Feb. 19. But youngsters like David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund seemed to mature overnight in the face of adversity and a vote of confidence from upstairs at the trade deadline, and with Chris Mason becoming a revelation in goal, they spearheaded a team that refused to quit.
And the Blues refused to quit even when they were pushed to the wall in this series by the Canucks. St. Louis didn't have much going for it against a very good defensive opponent, struggling throughout the series on the the power and generally failing to create much dangerous offense at even strength. But the Blues still managed to find something within themselves after the Canucks took a 2-0 lead in Game 4, coming back to force overtime.
Ultimately, St. Louis couldn't solve Vancouver's great goalie Roberto Luongo, who shut down St. Louis long enough to give Alex Burrows the opportunity to win it as the first extra session would down. It wasn't the way the Blues wanted to go out, but they will be back.
Elsewhere tonight, the excitement didn't last long in Columbus where the Blue Jackets were playing their first home playoff game ever and were probably hoping it would help them convince the growing number of doubters that they really deserve to be here. Don't count on it.
Columbus was badly overmatched in the first two games of the series at Detroit when they scored only one goal and never made the Red Wings feel they were anything less than in complete control. But being in their own building wasn't enough to change the tenor of things, because teh Red Wings established the ground rules early and Columbus was never able to really figure them out.
The Red Wings had Columbus on its heels as soon as Tomas Holmstrom scored on a lucky bounce 67 seconds in, and then took away whatever fight was left in the home team when Dan Cleary made it 2-0 in the final minute of the first period. In between, Detroit had little trouble shutting down the feeble Blue Jackets attack with their tenacious checking, and on the few occasions when Columbus managed to create chances, Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood showed why his teammates have the faith in him that others lack. Osgood did have his shutout streak snapped at 144 plus minutes when R.J. Umberger scored late in the third, but by then the game was effectively over and probably the series as well.
Philadelphia got closer to the end of its road by dropping a 3-1 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins and falling behind by the same margin in their series. The Flyers threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the Penguins by firing 46 shots and probably deserved a better fate, but Pittsburgh goalie Marc Andre Fleury rebounded from a mediocre Game 3 to steal this one.
New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur felt he was robbed by the referees who didn't think Carolina's Jussi Jokinen deserved an interference penalty in the dying seconds of regulation because the Hurricanes forward tipped in a shot for the winning goal on the play. And you thought they only had buzzer beaters in basketball in the Triangle area. But it was a major break for the Hurricanes, who blew an early three goal lead, yet still managed to tie this series at two games each.
The San Jose Sharks have yet to dreaw even with the Ducks in their matchup, but the proved how little home ice advantage means in this series with a gritty 4-3 win in Anaheim. San Jose failed to hold three leads, but the Sharks did finally get their power play going, connecting twice with the man advantage to reduce the Duck lead to 2-1 in a series that has seen the road team win all the games.