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Blues believe they can contend for Stanley Cup

Despite second-round playoff loss, St. Louis feels core in place to contend for title

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- The disappointment was still resonating with the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday when they cleaned out their lockers, but there remained an air of accomplishment.

The Blues were eliminated in the Western Conference Second Round by the Nashville Predators in six games, but after losing forwards David Backes and Troy Brouwer to free agency prior to the season, firing Ken Hitchcock as coach and replacing him with Mike Yeo on Feb. 1, and trading defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk on Feb. 27, St. Louis feels it can be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender next season.

"It's sort of the underdog mentality a little bit," goaltender Jake Allen said. "A lot of people probably counted us out maybe potentially making the playoffs, maybe squeaking in, but I think even with the struggles we had mid-season, we proved we almost caught second place in our division and we're still there. We still have a lot of great pieces that have been here for a while and we have new players that are up-and-coming. A lot of us are still pretty young. We've still got a lot of more years left in us."

The Blues were defeated in each of the three games at Bridgestone Arena, including a 3-1 loss in Game 6. However, St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong said he didn't have the same feeling of disappointment he did after the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons, when the Blues eliminated in the first round each time. Last season, St. Louis made it to the conference final.

Video: STL@NSH, Gm6: Yeo on season-ending loss in Game 6

"Our goal never changed to win a Stanley Cup, but I've sat here … a few times feeling we left a lot of things on the table that we didn't clean up," Armstrong said. "I thought this year we were competitive with Nashville; they were with us. Someone had to win and lose that series. Obviously, we were good enough to win the series, but it's not like I felt we under-performed where in the past I felt like we hadn't met our own potential.

"I thought this year, this team, if they didn't max out, they were close and I think it shows you how close the NHL is because I think Nashville has a chance to win the Cup. I think we're in a good spot. I feel much more at ease knowing that these guys are guys I think we can win with in the future."

When Yeo took over for Hitchcock, the Blues were 24-21-5, in ninth place in the conference and in danger of missing the playoffs. They went 22-8-2 to finish the season 46-29-7, third in the Central Division.

"I feel like we took some steps, certainly in the last two months of the season," Yeo said. "I'm encouraged and optimistic about what we can bring. ... We all have to come back and find a way to be better."

The Blues have a No. 1 goalie in Allen, a young, talented core led by forwards Vladimir Tarasenko, 25, and Jaden Schwartz, 24; and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo, 27, and Colton Parayko, 23.

"I feel it because there's more confidence in this locker room," Tarasenko said. "The most difference for me I think is when Mike took over and then now, when you win the game, it's like you feel like you're supposed to win. It's not supposed to be like a surprise for you. So I think that's one thing that changed the last couple years. We started believing in each other more and the winning [became a] predictable thing for us. With these emotions, I think we can make our goal happen."

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