By Dan O'Neill in Los Angeles
For the Kings, there will be more games to play, more chapters to the story. For the St. Louis Blues, a special season came to a sorry end in a 3-1 loss at Staples Center on Sunday.
"It's not the way I or we envisioned the series going, that's for sure," said Blues netminder Brian Elliott. "You make your own breaks, sometimes you shoot yourself in the foot and sometimes the breaks go the other way too.
"It will be a learning experience for sure, but you can't really say things didn't go our way. You can't really blame anything else, but yourself."
The Blues finished 14 points ahead of the Kings during the regular season. They also came into the Western Conference semifinals with mettle and momentum, having dispatched dangerous San Jose team in five games.
But they ran into a buzz saw in Darryl Sutter's Kings, who mistreated the President's Trophy-capturing Canucks in the opening round, who overwhelmed the Blues in four games.
"They're the best team we played against, so that's all I can judge it on," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "LA plays the way you have to play to win the (Stanley) Cup now."
The Blues established a blue-collar reputation during the season. They finished with 109 points, despite having only two players on their roster score as many as 20 goals. Work ethic was their most recognizable skill. But Hitchcock's troops were out-hit, out-skated and out-scored 15-6 in a short-lived series.
"It was a good year personally and for the team," Elliott said. "It was kind of the opposite the way the series went. It makes it pretty disappointing. The way we won was a good way of winning, with hard work doing the job.
"And this time, I think everyone to a man can say they worked their hardest out there. It just didn't work out the same way."
It's a tough pill to swallow, but maybe a necessary pill. The Blues were making their first playoff appearance since 2009, advancing through an opening round for the first time since 2002. They have a handful of veterans - Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol. But their numbers are filled with players who had never known any playoff success.
One of those, defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk, struggled to find his mojo during much of the postseason. Shattenkirk has nine goals and 43 points during the season, finishing with a plus-20. During this postseason, he had two points in nine games and was a minus-3.
But Shattenkirk played his best performance of the series on Sunday, scoring a game-tying goal in the first period, making his presence felt throughout.Experience for young Shattenkirk
The performance did not help the Blues advance in these playoffs. But it might help the 23-year old Shattenkirk and some his young mates in playoffs to come.
"I think for me (the goal) was kind of a confidence booster," Shattenkirk said. "And I thought we kind of answered the bell and played a good game from there on."
The playoff goal was the first of Shattenkirk's young career, the first playoff goal by any Blues defenseman since Chris Pronger lit a lamp in April, 2003.
The goal also gave the Blues some life, pushed them in a direction they had hoped to be traveling throughout the series. They out-shot the Kings 24-19 in Game 4 and certainly out-chanced them, hitting two goals posts and forcing Kings netminder Jonathan Quick into acrobatics.
"The bounces didn't go our way," Shattenkirk said. "We worked hard for them, worked to try to get those bounces. But they just didn't seem to go our way."
Perhaps those bounces will go differently in the future. Perhaps Sunday's performance was a down payment on that. Shattenkirk played more than 23 minutes. He was solid defensively, reliable with the puck, aggressive at both ends.
He made the kind of plays he made all season, and he contributed the big moment with his game-tying goal. He finally emerged from the darkness into the light.
"I think the most important thing that I learned today was fighting through it, finding the level you need to play at in order to be successful this time of year," said Shattenkirk, who came to the Blues with Chris Stewart in the Erik Johnson trade late last season. "I didn't bring it much before, but it's definitely a learning experience."Dan O'Neill writes for the St. Louis Post Dispatch
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