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Hitchcock, Blues exit playoffs early again

by Louie Korac

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The St. Louis Blues have been near the top of the League standings in the regular season for each of the past four seasons, but exited the Stanley Cup Playoffs prematurely again.

The Blues were defeated by the Minnesota Wild 4-1 at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday, to lose the best-of-7 series 4-2, the third straight season they've been eliminated in the first round.

St. Louis finished with 14 goals in the series and four of them came in their four losses.

Sunday, Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 30 saves, allowing a T.J. Oshie goal.

Blues goalie Jake Allen, who had been strong through the first four games of the series, allowed two goals before being pulled from the game in favor of Brian Elliott.

The past four seasons in coach Ken Hitchcock's tenure, the Blues are 10-17 in the playoffs with one series victory.

"It [stinks]. There's no other summary of it than it [stinks]," captain David Backes said. "We put a lot into the regular season to get into the playoffs and then we seem to rather than go up a notch to beat a team, we're feeling them out or whatever and we're on our heels too much and they take it to us.

"You give Zach Parise too much room, he makes you pay. They're playing hard on our guys. We've got to return that and up the ante even more. Not enough. It's myself, it's everybody in this room. Together as a group, we didn't bring enough. Now we've got to answer way too many questions."

The Blues were forced to play catch-up hockey throughout the series. It was not the recipe for success against the Wild, who got the lead and were able to lock down the Blues' best players the entire series.

"Our best games were the last three," Hitchcock said. "Probably if you look at one thing was, we probably got into our 'A' game a little bit late, I suppose. We didn't play very well in Games 1 and 3 and we played awful well after that."

The inconsistency cost them a chance at winning the series.

"I think this is kind of always the same thing," Oshie said. "Once we get to this time of year, there's a strict game plan, and when we don't follow that game plan as a whole, it doesn't work. I don't know what the game plan is for other teams, but ours needs all four lines, all the 'D' and the goaltender. We just didn't have that for enough games."

And the Blues, who were looking to bring the series back to St. Louis for a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday, go into another off-season of uncertainty knowing that ownership and general manager Doug Armstrong could shake up the roster and coaching staff.

"I would assume [changes will be made]," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "[Armstrong's] not a guy who's going to sit back and let this happen year after year. That's the hardest thing for us right now is having to worry about that."

Shattenkirk hopes Hitchcock will be around next season.

"Absolutely," he said. "[Hitchcock] has been the reason why we've been here for four years. He's hard on us, but he does it because he knows the right way and how to get to this position. You can never take that away from the way he coaches. He coaches fundamentals. It's something we needed and we were able to get here because of him."

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