ST. LOUIS -- After a season in which the St. Louis Blues made tremendous strides in 2011-12, expectations were running rampant in the Gateway City for 2012-13.
The Blues were coming off a 109-point season, which was second-best in franchise history, but one that saw them learn hard lessons in being swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Despite a season full of challenges that tested the mettle of a young but talented squad, the Blues were peaking at the right time, and entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs, some were picking them to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Blues were able to narrow the gap between themselves and the Kings in their first-round series this year, but again fell short of their goal, losing to the Kings in six games.
The Blues' early exit will leave plenty of question marks in the offseason. Here are five reasons the Blues were eliminated sooner than expected from the postseason:
1. Lack of finishing
Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick deserves credit for throwing a virtual wall at the Blues' offense, but St. Louis produced high-percentage looks against Los Angeles throughout the series and could manage 10 goals in six games, six over the final four.
Simply put, the Blues' top scorers didn't produce at nearly the rate they were expected to. Andy McDonald had no points in six games; Chris Stewart, who led the Blues during the regular season with 18 goals and 36 points, had one assist in six games; Patrik Berglund, second on the team in the regular season with 17 goals, had one goal and two points in six games; captain David Backes had three points in six games; David Perron had no goals and two assists in six games; and T.J. Oshie had two goals in Game 4, but didn't produce a point in the other five games.
2. Ineffective power play
Nobody expected either team to light it up with the man-advantage, but the Blues' were completely ineffective on the power play, going 2-for-17 (11.8 percent).
The Blues began the season with the No. 1 power play in the NHL, but faltered as the season wore on, and those struggles carried into the playoffs. Being outscored 12-10 in the series makes one wonder if a power-play goal or two could have the difference between going home and advancing to the conference semifinals.
3. Mental toughness
Twice in the series the Blues allowed a lead to slip away. They got away with it in Game 1, when the Kings' Justin Williams tied the score with 31.1 seconds to play in regulation but the Blues won it in overtime on Alexander Steen's goal. But in Game 4, the Blues held leads of 2-0 in the first period and 3-2 in the third, only to see the Kings elevate their play while the Blues couldn't keep pace.
When the Kings got a lead in the series, they were able to stay calm and composed and withstand the Blues' pushes to equalize.
Brian Elliott by no means played poorly, but nonetheless he was outplayed by Quick. After allowing three goals in three games to begin the series, Elliott let in nine in the final three games, including a stoppable shot by Kings defenseman Slava Voynov in overtime that cost the Blues Game 5.
Goalie - STL
GAA: 1.90 | SVP: 0.919
It's hard to put Elliott in this category because he finished with a 1.90 goals-against average and .919 save percentage, but Quick was better for the second season in a row (although it was learned that Elliott played last year's series with an inner-ear infection that affected his equilibrium).
5. Untimely mistakes
Despite surrendering 12 goals in six games, Blues mistakes allowed the Kings to create odd-man-rush goals.
It started in Game 4 when the Blues were leading 2-0. A failed dump-in led to a Jeff Carter goal that gave the Kings life, then failed pinches by Oshie and Jordan Leopold ended with Dustin Penner scoring to tie the game 2-2 and give the Kings renewed life. Voynov's goal in overtime in Game 5 came on a 3-on-2 rush.
And in Game 6, the Blues twice failed to get a puck deep into the Kings' zone, and Penner scored with 0.2 seconds left in the second period. That proved to be the game-winner and series-clincher for the Kings.
It was a series that saw the teams tied or in a one-goal game for all but 5:01 in the six games, so the margin of error was minimal. The Blues seemed to make the critical mistakes at the worst times.