EDMONTON, Alberta — Well, now that that's over, the Blues can focus on an actual playoff opponent.
The Blues concluded the extended exhibition portion of the NHL Return to Play Plan, also known as the round-robin, on Sunday with a 2-1 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
They were less than a minute away from winning the game and grabbing the third seed and a date with the Calgary Flames in the Western Conference's first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But when Joe Pavelski tied it for the Stars, as the Blues were trying to hold on for dear life, with 31.4 seconds remaining in regulation with the goalie pulled, it gave the Stars a second wind, and they were able to grab the third seed with the shootout win when Denis Gurianov scored the lone goal, and Anton Khudobin stopped David Perron, Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O'Reilly's shootout attempts.
So what it did was drop the Blues, who came into the round-robin as the top seed in the West, down to the fourth seed and a date with the Vancouver Canucks, which will begin either Tuesday or Wednesday.
What the Blues were able to accomplish out of their three round-robin games, — all of which they led going into the third period in all of them, but were outscored 6-0 — was get out of these games relatively injury-free. The lone exception may be Sammy Blais, who seemed to injure his right leg/ankle in the second period. Coach Craig Berube said he'd be evaluated Monday after Blais tried to play the third period but took one shift.
Another positive sign has been the goaltending from both Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen, who was terrific on Sunday with 37 saves.
Allen was only beaten by Pavelski's screened shot that tied the game.
And following up on Jordan Binnington's two strong performances despite allowing six to Vegas on Thursday, the Blues go into these playoffs knowing goaltending isn't the problem.
"I felt pretty good out there tonight," Allen said. "Just trying to practice hard since I got back to St. Louis. I didn't know what the ice time schedule was going to be like for me, so I was glad I got a chance to play here. I just wanted to make the most of it. I thought Binner played great the first couple games and I just tried to follow in his footsteps. It was a scramble. They definitely put the scramble on there in the last little bit. They were patient, waiting for a good shot. It was a good shot, didn't see a whole lot of it, but yeah, that's the way it goes. They sort of pressured us and hemmed us in there the last couple seconds, maybe we got a little tired and they got one off the post.
"I think me and Binner and Dave (Alexander), our goalie coach, have had a great plan, I guess, a practice plan, and we tried to go back to the things that worked for me and him last season. We're both different goalies and different things that contributed to our success individually and collectively. I think we just tried to hone in on those and get as ready as possible and you had to be ready to go right away. I think it's been a good start for us."
Robert Thomas — who scored on the Blues first shot on Sunday, the second straight game in which they've scored on their first shot of the game — said it boils down to one thing.
"I think it's just desperation," Thomas said. "We weren't as desperate and our goalies stood on their heads in all three games for us and gave us a chance to win. We've just got to be better in front of them."
It was plainly obvious that the Blues just weren't as into this whole fighting for seeding as perhaps some teams were, including those in the Eastern Conference. Teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, who came in as the No. 4 in the East but prevail as the top seed.
The Blues and Boston Bruins, respective top seeds in each conference heading into the tournament, both drop to No. 4 seeds respectively, and finished the round-robin and exhibition games 0-7-1 combined.
"We didn't play very well in the round-robin," Berube said. "We played periods here and there, spurts here and there, but there wasn't a ton of pros for us. The cons of it all, the games probably didn't mean enough. That's the best way I can put it.
"... I'm not going to sit here and worry about what seed we are right now. I'm worried about Vancouver. That's who we play. We've got to play better as a team. That's what's on my mind, is getting our team ready to play Vancouver and we've got to play better than we're playing."
And when asked about his players not having a serious enough attitude for these games, Berube said, "I'm not sure if it was about a serious enough attitude. I don't know really what home-ice advantage is here. Sure, it's line change; you get the last change, but it really doesn't feel like home-ice advantage for anybody."
That makes it cut and dry that the Blues just wanted to build their game, have it going in the right direction, heading into Round 1. There's an argument that it didn't trend in that direction after Sunday, despite pockets of better play.
"Not our best these three games," Thomas said. "I thought we were a lot better today, but we've still got a long way to go. It's kind of nice now. There was a lot of uncertainty these first three games and what lies ahead. It's good to have a little bit of structure now and get ready to go for Vancouver."
Allen added, "With five days in between games, it's been a little bit long, but for us, I think we're excited to get the challenge. We definitely didn't play our best in these three games, but we've progressively gotten better and I think we just need to take these next couple (days) and hone in on Vancouver. They're a great team. They're fast, they're young, they're skilled. It's going to be a good challenge for us."
"Getting the real thing going here will be important for sure," Berube said. "I thought our game was better tonight, but we still have a lot to improve. Vancouver's a good team. They've got a lot of young guys on their team that are really good players, they've got a lot of speed. They're a dangerous team offensively. They really come at you with speed. We're going to have to do a good job here against Vancouver, checking, doing the right things. The other thing us they have a good power play. Tonight, we took way too many penalties. It's going to be important that we do a better job of staying out of the penalty box."
The Blues were a perfect six-for-six on the penalty kill on Sunday, but once again, too many penalties, stick infractions and interference infractions were the result of puck-chasing.
"All three games, there's been a lot of penalties and we've got to be more disciplined," Thomas said. "I know myself, I took a bad one on the power play. I think it's just moving our feet and not taking any penalties. We know they're calling penalties and every game's had a lot of penalties. It's just about disciplined and being smart."
We'll see come Tuesday or Wednesday now if the Blues can simply flip the switch and gear up for the meaningful games, because obviously, seeding didn't mean much, if anything.
"For us, it's just more about focusing in on ourselves," Thomas said. "We've shown and we're confident that when we play our game and play the way we want to, we're a tough team to beat. That's the biggest thing. It's obviously a little disappointing (not to get a higher seed), but for us, it was about finding our game and we were starting to find it there today and we've just got to keep on building. If we get going, there's a lot of teams that are going to have trouble with us."