Talk about a comparison that’s gotta hurt.
“The Blues,” proclaimed a member of the media covering the playoff series between St. Louis and the Chicago Blackhawks, “are just like the Cubs.”
That’s the Chicago Cubs, a team that for more than a century hasn’t been good enough to win a championship even when the personnel say they should be good enough.
As the Blues awoke Monday following their six-game playoff elimination at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, they began dissecting what must be done to claim the championship that’s eluded them since joining the NHL in the first wave of expansion in 1967.
After all, a second consecutive first-round elimination — even if they both were at the hands of the defending champs — is proof a team isn’t good enough.
Still, despite the pain of yet another disappointing defeat, the Blues are what people have spent the last year saying of them: Close.
“Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. That’s not more true than now,” said Blues captain David Backes in the aftermath of Sunday’s series-finale 5-1 loss in Chicago. “Close didn’t get it done.”
Not this time.
However, there aren’t any full-scale changes needed in Missouri, even if a segment believes the club’s core needs a big shake.
Take a gander at who makes up their foundation.
It’s forwards David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Steen, Patrick Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and the dynamic young duo of Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz.
The defence is built around a couple of outstanding young players in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, with Jay Bouwmeester, Barret Jackman, Roman Polak and Jordan Leopold rounding out a very good top six — although it could use more grit.
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Most of those players are going into their prime years.
Goaltending is a question mark. Trade-deadline acquisition Ryan Miller was not the answer after coming from the Buffalo Sabres, and it’s not a certainty he’ll be back, or the team would even want him.
Their goalie of the future is Jake Allen, who will soon turn 24 and certainly has to be given a shot after being named the AHL’s first all-star netminder this past season.
What all those players earned the Blues this season will go down as a disappointment, but it shouldn’t have.
No team was decimated at a worse time than the Blues. With a couple of weeks left in the regular season, they were in the hunt for top spot in the NHL, but suddenly were besieged by injuries to Backes, Oshie, Tarasenko, Sobotka, Berglund and Pietrangelo and others.
The six-game losing skid caused by that carnage resulted in a plummet down to second spot in the Central Division and a date with the Hawks, instead of facing one of the two wildcard teams.
Though the above mentioned players all returned, they were not 100% healthy.
“You take seven or eight guys out of any lineup, whether it’s the first-place team or last-place team, it’s going to be hard to play,” winger Steve Ott said. “I’d love to have had a little bit healthier team in the last six games and play somebody else (instead) of two top teams in the league going at it, trying to knock each other off. It’s tough to see that in the first round when it should probably be a Western Conference final matchup.”
That’s not to say the Blues don’t need to make some changes.
Ott, Brenden Morrow and Derek Roy are three veteran forwards who are pending unrestricted free agents this summer. At most, one of them should be back.
A bigger need than a veteran grit guy or a goalie is a legitimate sniper. Where the Blues had a disadvantage against the Blackhawks, was the game-breaker department.
Tarasenko has all the makings of a future star, but he was on an island. The rest of the Blues score by crashing and banging their way around the crease — an element that lacked in their game in the Blackhawks series, in part because of the injuries.
Another game-breaker would also do wonders for their power play.
“Up until the last week or two of the regular season, we had a fantastic year,” Bouwmeester said. “They’re a good team … and it’s the same lesson we learned last year.”
Yes, but they aren’t lessons that are difficult to address.
Here’s betting the Blues don’t need another half century and more to find their formula.
They’re not completely like the Cubs.
On Twitter: @SunRandySportak