Why isn't anyone smiling?
Maybe the Kings are who everyone thought they were in September. Maybe they just needed a new coach with no personality who looks like he has permanent bitter beer face. All I'm trying to say is the Kings are really good and obviously deserved to win that series.
Still, it stings. Expectations are a fluid thing. At the beginning of the year, I think most fans would have been happy with a feisty team making the playoffs. When they fired Davis Payne, just making the playoffs seemed like a distant goal. And then the players starting drinking the Ken Hitchcock Kool-Aid and suddenly things changed. The Blues climbed the standings, they jumped over Chicago and Nashville and Detroit. They held the top spot in the West for awhile. They were in the President's Trophy running until the final weekend of the season.
Unequivocally, the regular season was a success. Give them an A. They were the best defensive team in the league. Special teams got to be pretty good. They became an opportunistic team with the best goaltender tandem in the league. I think the number of penalties they took during the year should have been a foreshadowing of what could go wrong in the playoffs, something that helped sink the ship against the Kings. They had some balanced scoring, but not an overabundance of scoring. But think about a year ago at this time. No playoffs. Think about two years ago at this time. No playoffs. Even three years ago at this time, the Blues had made the playoffs and then ended up being the first team eliminated with four straight losses to Vancouver. That sounds like progress. But was it enough?
If you look at the cogs on this team, they all saw many things they've never seen before. Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk now know what it's like to help take over a playoff game, control the flow, shake hands as the victor and then become the targets of heat-seeking missiles wearing the other team's jersey. T.J. Oshie had his best professional season. That was not his best series against L.A. David Backes has a year as captain under his belt. David Perron knows he can still play in this league. Andy McDonald knows he can still be a game changer much less a series changer. Patrik Berglund took two steps back in the regular season, rode McDonald's coattails in the first round and then struggled again in the second round. Chris Stewart needs to find himself.
Then there's the curious case of Brian Elliott struggling against the Kings and Jaroslav Halak looking like a passenger and then a vital player when he wasn't available. Lots of twists and turns in this season.
Ken Hitchcock is teaching this group of players how to win. He melded together a squad that couldn't get the job done a year ago into a team that went into the second round as the favorites to win the Cup according to Vegas odds makers (oops). And for all the good things that happened this season, it still sucks that it ended how it did with a sweep.
You know the movie the Matrix where Cypher is back on the ship and wants to give Morpheus and the gang up to the machines and he answers the phone when Trinity calls. And he says all he has to do is pull the plug, but she has to watch Switch die. And with that realization, Switch, standing over a fallen comrade, looks up at the camera and says. "Not like this." And then she falls over lifeless. I was prepared for the Blues to lose in the playoffs. I wasn't prepared for them to be humbled and broken and swept by the Kings. Not like this indeed.
Making the second round of the playoffs, that's an A. Getting swept takes some points away. Playoff grade...B-. Harsh, but like I said, expectations are fluid.
How about you? Do the Blues deserve one overall grade? One for the regular season and one for the playoffs? What letter would you give them?