By Brad Lee
When a team's goaltender is the No. 1 star, that team should win. When a team kills six penalties, that team will probably win. When a team allows just one goal, that team almost always wins. Of course every rule has an exception. And Thursday night the Blues were the exception falling 1-0 to Carolina.
The loss puts the Blues at 5-4-0 on the season and a disappointing 3-3-0 heading into the final game of a seven-game home stand, the Blues' longest of the season. If the Blues somehow fall one or two points short of the playoffs come April, Thursday's game will be seen as a missed opportunity.
The lone goal of the contest came with just under 10 minutes left in the third period. Paul Kariya was in the penalty box for cheating (he lodged his stick in the arm pit of a Carolina forward as he was caught out of position on a Hurricane breakout the other way). His infraction gave the Hurricanes their seventh power play of the game. They wouldn't need an eighth to score on the Blues' suddenly stellar goaltender, Chris Mason.
On a Carolina dump-in, Eric Brewer got to the puck but then had his pocket picked by Tuomo Ruutu and that led directly to the goal. After cycling the puck around the perimeter, Eric Staal walked in from the left faceoff circle and fired a soft shot on net. Ruutu deflected the shot between Mason's pads and the puck trickled meekly into the net.
The Carolina goal killed the momentum the Blues had gained in the third period with the energetic play of T.J. Oshie. For a few shifts it appeared he thought he was still back at University of North Dakota and he could will his team to victory. While his frantic play led to some excitement, it still wasn't enough. Oshie was named the third star of the game, proving that you can register a shutout and still not be named one of the three stars. That's how winnable this game was for the Blues.
The Hurricanes showed the league how to keep the No. 1 power play in the league off the scoreboard - don't get called for any penalties. Carolina had the six power plays before the first man advantage opportunity for the Blues.
A blind homer might say about Thursday's game that "Those referees are fucking blind! We got screwed!" A realist might say, "If the Blues played more aggressively, especially in the offensive zone, they would have gotten their share of calls." For instance, the Blues didn't have a shot more than 10 minutes into the game. They were shorthanded just 11 seconds into the game. They only managed 19 total shots.
The refs weren't perfect (especially when a Carolina stick got caught in the visor of Jay McClement and no call was made), but the Blues didn't create their own luck.
What's sad is how the Blues wasted the great performance of Mason, the only player they acquired in the offseason. He was quick and nimble, he anticipated the play well and was unshakeable with all the shorthanded opportunities he faced. It's also a shame the goal he allowed looked soft at first blush but was actually a difficult opportunity with Ruutu deflecting the shot just a few feet in front of Mason. That's all Carolina would need to secure the win.
The Blues have one more home game Saturday night before hitting the road for eight of their next 10 games. That final home game is against the Pittsburgh Penguins. And while it still promises to be a compelling game, some of the luster may be missing. Superstar center Sidney Crosby left the Penguins game early Thursday night with an undisclosed lower body injury. It's unknown if he'll even dress when Pittsburgh pays its first visit to St. Louis since Crosby's rookie season in December 2005. Sorry, scalpers.