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Lighting The Lamp: Here We Go Again

You might recognize the "Lighting the Lamp" feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Lighting the Lamp" will be featured every home game day.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Lighting the Lamp, with Rick Ackerman

When the Blues' players entered the TradeStocks Center for game one of the opening round of the 2015 playoffs, a frenetic, boisterous standing room only crowd of 19, 671  welcomed them with a deafening roar, setting the stage for an epic battle between two evenly matched NHL hockey teams. The only problem was that the Blues didn't really bother to show up until half-way through the third period and gave way too little much too late.

In what would be perhaps the worst performance by any team in the opening round, the St. Louis Blues were out hustled and out played in every aspect of the game by the Minnesota Wild. Six other teams that lost the first game in the opening round played well despite losing. Ottawa pushed Montreal to the limit in a 4-3 loss, Nashville took Chicago to double overtime before succumbing 4-3, Vancouver was edged 2-1 by Calgary, Tampa Bay narrowly lost to Detroit 3-2, Pittsburgh was edged by the Rangers 2-1, and Winnipeg was in the game until the third period in a 4-2 loss in Anaheim. Only the Washington Capitals equaled the Blues' futility with a 4-1 home loss to the New York Islanders.

This is what happens when a hockey team cannot pass the puck, shoot on net, or even check their opponents. Minnesota took an early lead when Jason Zucker took advantage of a Jake Allen miscue and scored on a wrap-around from behind the net. Allen got caught up on one side of the net as he hooked his leg around the near post and could not recover quickly enough. Of course, he got no help from veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester who failed to cover the far post for Allen. When Minnesota scored a power play goal early in the second period to take a commanding 2-0 lead, there was still plenty of time for the Blues to get it together and start attacking by pressuring Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk with shots on goal. Through two periods, though, the Blues could only manage 11 shots on goal, a meager four in the second period. Minnesota had 14 shots during the second period, 21 through two periods, as well as the lead.

The clubs traded goals in the third period. Both of the Wild tallies were empty net goals; Alexander Steen's was a short handed goal. The Blues could only manage 10 shots on goal, never really establishing any kind of coordinated attack. The result was a rather embarrassing, disconcerting 4-2 home loss. They say, "Speed kills", yet in this case, it was a lack of speed that killed the Blues.

Even more disappointing than the score was the lack of physical play and general indifference shown by the Blues, who only managed 22 hits during the entire game. Bouwmeester led the way with four, followed by Ryan Reaves and Dmitrij Jaskin with three. Captain David Backes only had one. Seven players had none at all. If a hockey team's offensive game is off kilter and discombobulated, the solution is simple. Start hitting everything in sight; pressure the defense into coughing up the puck and force mistakes. The Blues would have none of that and instead reacted passively to whatever Minnesota did. St. Louis practically gave this game away to a proactive Wild squad that had no trouble taking command, refusing to give up their lead, blocking 20 total shots during the game.

Even the Blues' special teams, which were so good during the regular season, weren't at all special, while Minnesota's were quite sufficient. The power play was ineffective on two chances as the Blues had trouble setting up in the offensive zone, failing to garner any decent shots from the point. Nor could they maintain possession by passing the puck, allowing Wild defenseman to clear the zone all too often. On the other hand, Minnesota scored two power play goals on four opportunities. The first by rookie defenseman Matt Dumba was a blast from the point that Allen never saw. The second came late in the third period when the Blues were scrambling for the tying goal and coughed up the puck to Zach Parise, who flipped it to Jason Pominville for an easy empty net power play goal.

No, it isn't panic time. Many a team has lost home ice advantage in a seven game series by losing the first game at home only to come back and win the series. You will know in the first five minutes of this afternoon's game if the Blues have learned anything from game one and approach game two with a different attitude. If they come out hard, skating with power and hitting every Wild player who touches the puck, they can easily dominate play. If they can pepper Dubnyk with shots, especially from the point, and put some heavy pressure on the defense, they can easily take the lead in the first period. The Blues have to avoid stupid, unnecessary penalties and also take advantage and score on the power play when Minnesota takes penalties. Both the Blues special teams have to step it up as they did during the regular season.

Yes, it's time for the leaders on the team to step up and prove they are the most skilled, deepest and most adaptable edition of the Note ever assembled. It's time for the Blues to prove they are resourceful and multitalented enough to overcome some early adversity and take command of this opening round series, starting this afternoon.