Blues take strong dose of op­ti­mism into off-sea­son

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - NATE LATSCH

ST. LOUIS The St. Louis Blues could have been pre­par­ing for Game 7 of a sec­ond-round play­off se­ries against the Nashville Preda­tors on Tues­day.

In­stead, af­ter be­ing elim­i­nated by the Preda­tors in six games, the Blues were pack­ing up for the off­sea­son, re­flect­ing on a tu­mul­tuous 2016-17 cam­paign and ea­gerly look­ing for­ward to next sea­son.

“It still st­ings,” said de­fence­man Alex Pi­etrangelo, the team cap­tain. “Af­ter a cou­ple days of re­flec­tion, I think you have to be proud of the point that we got to. I bet you half­way through the sea­son not many peo­ple thought we’d be where we are to­day hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion.

“It’s ob­vi­ously still dis­ap­point­ing to us. The ul­ti­mate goal is al­ways to win a Stan­ley Cup and to watch some­one else do it this year again is ex­tremely frus­trat­ing. But we’ve got a young group here, we feel like we’ve built some things here and I think we re­ally have an op­por­tu­nity to take a re­ally big step next year.”

Af­ter win­ning 49 games and ad­vanc­ing to the West­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal a year ago, vet­eran for­wards David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Steve Ott and goalie Brian El­liott left the Blues as ei­ther free agents or via trade. The ros­ter shakeup con­tin­ued into the sea­son with the fir­ing of coach Ken Hitch­cock on Feb. 1 and the trade of de­fence­man Kevin Shat­tenkirk not long af­ter.

The Blues were 24-21-5 when gen­eral man­ager Doug Arm­strong re­placed Hitch­cock with coachin-wait­ing Mike Yeo and the team surged down the stretch to fin­ish 46-29-7 and claim the third spot in the Cen­tral Di­vi­sion.

The Blues won their first-round play­off se­ries against the Min­nesota Wild in five games, then lost to the Preda­tors in six close games.

The Blues have plenty to be ex­cited about go­ing for­ward and could re­turn most of the same team next sea­son.

They have just one un­re­stricted free agent, fourth-line for­ward Scot­tie Up­shall, but could lose some­one in the Ve­gas ex­pan­sion draft. Arm­strong said they will pro­tect seven for­wards, three de­fence­man and one goalie.

The Blues feel good about their nu­cleus, led by players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Pi­etrangelo, Paul Stastny, Alexan­der Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka and Robby Fab­bri, the growth of sec­ond-year de­fence­men Colton Parayko and Joel Ed­mund­son and the re­siliency of goalie Jake Allen, who shook off a rough stretch, was stingy down the stretch and posted a .935 save per­cent­age and 1.96 goals-against av­er­age in 11 play­off games.

“We all have to come back and find a way to be bet­ter,” Yeo said. “We’re all ca­pa­ble of it. For me, per­son­ally, I look at this group and I’m very ex­cited about this group mov­ing for­ward.”

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