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St. Louis Blues' tank hits empty in Game 6 of conference final

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The St. Louis Blues started to run out of gas in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Then the second-round against the Dallas Stars took another toll on them. By the time they reached Game 6 of the Western Conference Final they didn’t have much left.

“We had individuals that they were struggling, guys that were high-minutes players,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We're going to look back on a lot of things. But one of the things that hurt us energy-wise was our inability to close out when we had the opportunity. It extended the series. Ended up forcing us into playing players multiple minutes. Ended up really hurting us in this series overall.” 

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Throughout the Western Conference Final the Blues put on a brave face, saying that their prior two seven-game series didn’t matter for this series. They had chances to close out the Blackhawks in five games and the Stars in six games. But the Blues couldn’t finish the job and that made any deeper run in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs difficult for them.

From the second period of Game 5 onward, the Sharks outscored the Blues 10-3 and a lot of St. Louis’ stars struggled as they tried to cope with fatigue.

Dynamic young forward Vladimir Tarasenko scored two goals in the entire series, both in the third period of Game 6 when his team was out of the game.

Rookie Robby Fabbri had two points in six games after coming into the series with 13 points in 14 playoff games. 

Captain David Backes scored six goals in 14 playoff games prior to the conference final. He had one goal in six games against the Sharks.

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was a minus-3. 

“They made us play in our end. They played a good deep game,” Pietrangelo said. “We played our game. We had some spurts there. They just executed better. This is as close as we've ever been, a lot guys haven't been this close especially the guys who have been here for a long time.” 

The Sharks weren’t the only team looking to exorcise past playoff demons in this series, which is why this loss felt so painful for St. Louis. The group had been a part of disappointments in the past with three straight first-round postseason exits before this year. They didn’t take this trip to the conference final for granted because they know there aren’t any guarantees moving forward.

“Man, the stop is pretty sudden and the flood of emotions, of – obviously – disappointment, but also a level of pride and how proud we are of the group in there. There’s a few guys held together by tape and a few guys that have sacrificed a ton in there to get to this point,” Backes said. “There’s a lot to be proud of, but when you put all your will and all your being into something and you get so close you can taste it and then not get a job done, there’s definitely a dissatisfaction at the moment that it’s tough to put into words.”

The Blues face an offseason of questions. Backes and Troy Brouwer are both pending unrestricted free agents.

Tarasenko’s inability to score this conference final could lead to some worry with him moving forward. 

Also, what of Hitchcock who will turn 65 next December?

But there are signs of optimism. Part of the reason why the Blues made it further this year was because of their expanding depth. Fabbri should improve next season as should rookie defenseman Colton Parayko.

Pietrangelo and fellow defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk are both in their 20s and still in their primes. 

None of that mattered after Game 6. The sting of defeat was harsh on the Blues on Wednesday at SAP Center. Hitchcock said he would give the team a couple of days before he talks to them next.

He added that they’re the closest team he’s coached the last 10 years and he wanted to give them space to reflect.

“I see the devastation in our locker room right now. Guys aren't even able to speak,” he said. “We got some guys that are pretty shook up right now.”

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