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Posted: Monday April 20, 2009 12:39AM; Updated: Monday April 20, 2009 12:07PM
Allan Muir Allan Muir >
INSIDE THE NHL

Canucks give Blues hard lesson in playoff effort, seize 3-0 lead

Story Highlights

The Canucks opened up a 3-0 series lead on the Blues with a 3-2 win in St. Louis

St. Louis rose from 15th to sixth in the West, but is getting schooled by Vancouver

The Blues tried to outmuscle the Canucks but couldn't handle the counter-punch

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David Perron (left) and the Blues tried to set the physical tone but ultimately couldn't match Sami Salo and Co.
AP
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Allow me to be brutally honest with the devoted and deflated fans of the St. Louis Blues:

It's over.

This team is not going to come back from down three games to none to the Vancouver Canucks after losing 3-2 Sunday (RECAP | BOX). In the history of the NHL, 155 teams have found themselves at the bottom of that particular snake pit and just two have managed to claw their way out. The Canucks haven't gotten to four just yet, but there's no reason to get your hopes up.

At least not for this year.

Here's the thing. No matter how draining and disappointing it's all been to watch this team get schooled by the deeper, more experienced Canucks, don't for a moment think that it invalidates the struggle to get here. Learning to win is a process and this series has been all about Vancouver offering them an accelerated course.

The Blues have made the point that they've been in playoff mode for last couple months as they rose from 15th in the West to sixth. They were wrong. Truth is, they just didn't know any better. Now they're finding out what playoff mode really means.

It's more than just picking up your game. It's a series of continuous adjustments, all made without ever allowing your compete level to diminish. It's leaning how to play within the moment, and not letting emotions overwhelm that moment.

And as much as anything, it's about finding a way to capitalize when an opportunity presents itself.

That's an area where they obviously failed Sunday night.

Backed by the raucous crowd at the Scottrade Center, the Blues dominated the early going. They set the physical tone (outhitting the Canucks 16-5 in the first) and outworked them. They were full value for the 1-0 lead built on David Backes' even-strength goal in the opening minutes. But Vancouver weathered the storm, including a lengthy five-on-three penalty kill.

A veteran side would have recognized what was coming next and would have been fully prepared to counter-punch. Instead, the Blues were overwhelmed. Unable to match Vancouver's effort, they started trailing the play instead of anticipating it. And as they found themselves trying to catch-up, their own parade to the penalty box started.

Three Vancouver power play goals later, and it was church for the Blues.

Blowing that early two-man advantage, and another similar opportunity later in the game, will be the stuff of their nightmares this summer.

"We looked tight and nervous on the power play," Blues' coach Andy Murray said. "We've had over five minutes of five-on-three [advantage] in this series and had maybe four or five good chances. That's not good enough."

While Murray praised his team's compete level after the game, it was the verbal equivalent of putting his arm around the shoulders of a bunch of humbled kids. Truth is, they may have worked hard but, outside of Andy McDonald, they weren't willing to pay the price where it mattered.

After scoring just once in two games in Vancouver, the formula for Game 3 was pretty obvious. Get more pucks on the net and get more Blues in Roberto Luongo's kitchen. Simple, right? But time and again the Blues generated for shots off the rush without guys wreaking havoc before, or after, the puck arrived. They found ice. They just didn't find the tough ice.

Give credit to Vancouver's defense, especially Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa. They made sure that the road to Luongo was fraught with peril. But at this time of year, the teams that advance are those that find a way. The Blues should take a look at the Canucks for a good example. The Sedin twins? They've spent their careers being called out for not paying the price. But there's Daniel tonight, scoring the second goal while entwined with three St. Louis defenders. Pretty? No. But plenty effective.

That's the sort of lesson that teams learn the hard way. To paraphrase the eloquently self-aware Buffy Summers, these Blues are cookie dough, and they're not done baking. The wait isn't much fun, but having the Canucks turn up the heat on this group definitely is part of the process.

At some point, these guys will be cookies. But not this year.

 
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