LOS ANGELES -- St. Louis Blues captain David Backes thought his team played its best contest of this series Sunday afternoon with the season in the balance.
Still, it wasn't enough for his team to avoid elimination at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings, who swept St. Louis with a 3-1 victory to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
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There were problems throughout the series for the Blues -- injuries, an ineffective power play, consistently playing from behind. The biggest issue in Game 4 was also something that troubled them earlier in the series -- bad penalties, either because of where they happened on the ice or when they happened.
"When the temperature emotionally of the games went up, I think our personal discipline -- we're on the learning curve -- the personal discipline wasn't there," St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. "The temperature of the games went up a lot more than in the [first] series and that little edge you need is a learned skill and we didn't have it. We took penalties at the wrong time. We got emotionally wrapped up during the shift and couldn't shut it down when you need to shut it down, which experienced teams [do]. It seems like you almost have to go through that to figure it out. You can talk about it and bark about it all you want, but we went through it."
Chris Stewart took a tripping penalty 2:06 into the game while crashing into the boards behind the Los Angeles net. The Kings didn't score, but 30 seconds after it expired they did, and they carried that momentum for much of the first period.
The Blues were down 2-1 and had a power play in the second period, but Backes short-circuited it 10 seconds in with an elbowing penalty in the offensive zone. When the Kings were about to be called for a penalty later in the period, Matt D'Aogstini slammed into Los Angeles defenseman Alec Martinez as he touched the puck for the whistle and earned a matching minor for boarding.
St. Louis' final infraction of the game came eight minutes into the third period as the Blues were trying to find a season-saving goal. Scott Nichol took his second high-sticking penalty of the game. Not only was it a double-minor, it was yet another infraction deep in the Los Angeles zone and far, far away from the team's own net.
"I think there's, I don't know -- it is tough to swallow right now. We analyze everything," Blues forward Alex Steen said. "Yeah, to be honest, I don't know. I thought there were some calls that could have gone either way, and obviously we take some that kill our momentum. All in all, it is not solely because of that. We just didn't get up to our standards."
Added Hitchcock: "The biggest thing looking back at this series is the personal discipline when it gets really amped up. I think being around a while, you have to learn that to move forward. You have to experience it, so you know what it feels like so it doesn't happen again. If you look these Games 1, 2 and 4, we had a lot of penalties that took us off the power play or allowed them to keep momentum."