(KSDK Sports) -- Now that we've had some time to mourn, we can all now reflect. Being swept in the NHL playoffs is not the typical ending to a memorable season, but that was the case with the Blues in 2011-12.
The club posted a record of 49-22-11 for 109 points, ranking second in the 44-year history of the franchise. The team finished in a second-place tie in the NHL standings and claimed the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Blues knocked off San Jose 4-1 in the first round, marking their first playoff series win since 2002. But in the second round, a powerful Los Angeles team put an end to the Blues' good vibrations, sweeping them in four games.
The players were disappointed after their abrupt exit, but many pointed out that, with a young roster, the experience will be a big benefit to the Blues.
"History shows you that your first time making the playoffs in (awhile), to just wipe the competition and have a jaunt through the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup is not historically what happens," Blues captain David Backes said. "You get to a couple rounds, learn your faults, learn what players on your team cracked and you learn a lot about yourself and the next year you're stronger for it.
"(This season) is not all in vain. It's a great lesson learned and next year we're going to be better for it. We're not saying the third round is our goal next year... we want to win the Cup, but we're going to use the experiences we've had this year to draw upon and have more success in the playoffs."
No singular area of improvement would have helped the Blues beat Los Angeles, which was dominant across the board, but the club was left wondering how having Jaroslav Halak available might have improved their chances. The backbone of the Blues this season was its dynamic goaltending duo of Halak and Brian Elliott, but once Halak went down in the first round with a high-ankle sprain, the pressure was on Elliott's shoulders.
After going 3-0 with a 1.37 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage against San Jose, Elliott was 0-4 with a 3.29 GAA and .854 save percentage vs. L.A.
"It was huge," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the loss of Halak. "It was a big issue. But what are you going to do? That's just the nature of the game."
As was the case in the regular season, the Blues posted limited offense in the second round of the playoffs. The team averaged 2.51 goals per game in the regular season, ranking 21st in the NHL, and converted 16.7 percent of its power-play opportunities (19th). Against the Kings, the Blues scored just six goals in four games, and they were 0-for-17 on the man-advantage.
But heading into the offseason, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said he expects the team to continue with an offense-by-committee approach.
"You look at the two teams that are going to play for the Western Conference championship (Phoenix, 2.56 goals per game; L.A., 2.29) and I would say the committee approach is working pretty well for them," he said.
Armstrong added the Blues have the proper pieces in place. They simply need to return in 2012-13 remembering the disappointment from the bitter end of their remarkable season.
"The key for us is to want to play another six weeks, to take the accolades we're going to get as an organization about the improvement and how things are on the right track... it doesn't mean anything if we don't respond and get better," Armstrong said. "We say thank you and go back to work. Ultimately it's up the guys that are coming back. How full are they right now? If they're full, then we'll probably be in the same spot a year from now. If they're hungry, we'll probably be further ahead. They're the only ones that can answer that."
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: The Blues set a franchise record with 30 victories at Scottrade Center this season, topping the mark of 29 wins set in 1980-81. The banner year included a long stretch of successful hockey on home ice. At one point, the Blues were unbeaten in regulation at home in 21 consecutive games. They went 18-0-3 from Dec. 6, 2011-Feb. 19, 2012. The Boston Bruins ended the streak with a 4-2 victory.
TURNING POINT: Interestingly, the season began to go awry when the Blues were completely healthy. On March 31, the club had every player available for the first time in 160 games, but the Blues lost 5-2 to last-place Columbus. The team went 1-2-1 in its final four games and, despite a first-round playoff win over San Jose, the Blues never seemed to have the same edge late in the season that they possessed most of the year.
--A group of St. Louis investors, led by Tom Stillman, officially took over as the eighth owners of the Blues on May 10. Stillman, who has been a minority owner in the club since 2007, said he would act more as a steward of the franchise than an owner. "An important element in Blues history is its legacy and, more than anything else, that legacy is made up of the players who have worn the Blue Note ... the players who have won games and lost games and played their hearts out over the last 44 years," Stillman, 60, said. "As owners, I see us as guardians of that legacy that these men have created. We are going to make sure that we are respectful of that legacy and that we enhance our connections to it, to the alumni and to Blues history."
--One remaining piece of unfinished business for new Blues owner Tom Stillman following his acquisition of the team will be the hiring of former Blues star Brett Hull. Hull's return to St. Louis, where he played 11 seasons and left as the franchise's leading scorer (527 goals), was not announced at the press conference, but Stillman said that his addition is still anticipated. "I'm hopeful that Brett will be joining us in a substantive management role. I'm actively talking to him. I'm hopeful we'll work something out." In the meantime, Stillman will be immersing himself with Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, creating a budget for the 2012-13 season. "I'm sure that when he believes it's time to talk to me, he'll give me a call and we'll have a coffee and I'll get the lay of the land," Armstrong said. "In due course, they'll let me know what the parameters (are) and we'll move forward."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Before the series, we were taking about being a mirror image of each other and how similar our styles were. They played the game that we wanted to and we just didn't elevate our level to what they were doing." -- Defenseman Barret Jackman on the Blues' second-round playoff exit after being swept 4-0 by Los Angeles.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo took another huge step in his development, registering 12 goals, 51 points and a plus-16 rating. His 51 points were fifth in the NHL among defensemen in the regular season. Pietrangelo was in the discussion for a Norris Trophy nomination, but he was not among the three finalists. If there was any debate about who the Blues' MVP was this season, that discussion ended when the club was shredded 5-2 in Game 2 of the second round against L.A., when Pietrangelo was out with a knee injury.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Forward Chris Stewart fell considerably short of expectations, finishing with 15 goals and 30 points in 79 games this season. To put that into context, Stewart had 15 goals in 26 games with the Blues after being traded from Colorado in February 2010. A two-time 28-goal scorer, it was certainly an off year offensively for Stewart, who was demoted to the fourth line at one point in the season and was a healthy scratch at times during the playoffs. He will be a restricted free agent this summer, and the Blues will likely give him a chance to come back and prove himself at a reasonable cost.
BIGGEST NEEDS: The No. 1 priority of the Blues this summer should be finding a defenseman who can play with Alex Pietrangelo and accent his amazing talents. Pietrangelo led the team in ice time with an average of 24:43 per game, staying in the game for all situations. Carlo Colaiacovo was his partner for much of the season, but Colaiacovo's game diminished and he was a healthy scratch in the Blues' final playoff game. In addition to a top defenseman, the Blues might also be in the market for a third-line center if, as expected, Jason Arnott doesn't return.
FREE AGENT FOCUS: The Blues have seven unrestricted free agents: forwards Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Chris Porter and Scott Nichol and defensemen Barret Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo and Kent Huskins. The team has three restricted free agents: forward T.J. Oshie, Chris Stewart and David Perron. Among the UFAs, Langenbrunner and Jackman may be the only returning players. The leadership of both was extremely valuable this season, but moving forward, each player must continue to accept a limited role on the ice. The club would like to re-sign all three of its RFAs.
PLAYER NOTES: --G Brian Elliott proved to have a difficult time handling the full workload in the playoffs after teammate Jaroslav Halak was lost with an ankle injury. Elliott was 3-0 with a 1.37 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage in the first round, but playing his most extended action of the season (seven consecutive starts), he was 0-4 with a 3.29 GAA and .854 save percentage in the second round against L.A.
--G Brian Elliott proved to have a difficult time handling the full workload in the playoffs after teammate Jaroslav Halak was lost with an ankle injury. Elliott was 3-0 with a 1.37 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage in the first round, but playing his most extended action of the season (seven consecutive starts), he was 0-4 with a 3.29 GAA and .854 save percentage in the second round against L.A.
--C Patrik Berglund may have the Blues scratching their heads this summer. Berglund, who had 19 goals and 38 points in the regular season, broke out in the first round of the playoffs with seven points in five games. But Berglund wasn't heard from offensively in the second round, going pointless in four games.
--D Barret Jackman had a disappointing postseason and it may lead to his exit out of town after 10 years in St. Louis. Jackman was a team-worst minus-8 in nine playoff games. He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and with the Blues grooming several young blueliners, Jackman's days in St. Louis may be numbered.