CHICAGO -- The St. Louis Blues have been able to maintain their top billing in the NHL for a variety of reasons. The goaltending has been stellar the entire season, but their penalty kill has been a stalwart for a month now.
But in Tuesday night's 4-3 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center, as the Blues were going for a mark that hasn't been accomplished in over a decade, there was finally a chink in the armor.
It wasn't for a lack of effort, but the Blues' penalty killers were taxed.
Brent Seabrook finally snapped the Blues' penalty-killing streak at 51 kills in a row, which was two shy of the Washington Capitals' mark of 53 in a row set in 1999-2000.
The reason the Blues had so much success? They didn't take many penalties. But in four of the last five games, the team has been shorthanded four or more times, including eight Sunday night in Columbus and six more times Tuesday.
The Blues (45-18-8) blew a 3-1 lead, and the tying goal by Seabrook in the third period came as a result of some tired guys playing 4-on-5.
"It's all discipline and hard work," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're kind of half in, half out. We're not there, we're not sharp. We've got too many of the same people taking the same penalties. Our work ethic's not sharp because we're not checking well at all for a consistent period because we're not managing the puck properly. When you don't manage the puck properly, it ends up burying you, and that's what's happened."
Three of Chicago's six power plays came in the third period, with the Blues holding a 3-2 lead. Seabrook's shot from near the blue line got through traffic in front of Jaroslav Halak and in, as the Blues allowed a power play goal for the first time since Feb. 14 (16 games).
"The last three or four games ... the penalties are one thing, but all of the sudden, you're taxing the killers, and all of the sudden there's a penalty that we needed to take to take a scoring chance away," Blues captain David Backes said. "... They pounded us down, pounded us down and finally they capitalized.
"I don't know if it was their sixth or seventh one, but finally in the third period, too many of those and we had eight against Columbus the other night. That's too much. We need to play for each other, stick up for each other, but you can't have train tracks to the box all night."
Halak, who stopped 43 shots Tuesday night, could see the penalty killers in front of him ... and could see them wearing down.
"Obviously because when you're using the same people killing penalties and using them for the power play, obviously at the end of the game or third period, they'll be tired, and that's what happened," Halak said. "We started making tired mistakes in the third period. ... That cost us the game tonight. We have to try to stay out of the box and try to keep it 5-on-5."
Patrik Berglund is one of those two-way special teams players.
"It's obviously tough to win the game when we're in the penalty box a whole lot today, too," Berglund said. "We play the same guys on the penalty kill as much as we do on the PP. It's frustrating. You get tired, especially when you're in the box that long. We were giving them momentum to get back in the game. We didn't respond back. This is what happens."
The Blues just can't seem to win in this building either. In three of the last five games played here, the Blues have built two-goal leads -- and lost all three of them.
They're 0-4-2 in their last six games in Chicago dating back to their last win on Feb. 3, 2010.