ST. LOUIS — For the third straight year, it's one and done for the St. Louis Blues.
Jobs may be on the line after coach Ken Hitchcock's team won the Central Division but fell flat in the playoffs in a six-game opening-round loss to the Minnesota Wild. The Blues had believed this was their best chance at winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup with four strong lines, solid defense and good to great goaltending.
"It's the worst," forward Steve Ott said. "You put in a lot of months, a lot of effort, you never know when you get a special group like we had in here. This series, I thought it was a telling tale of what can go wrong at times and what does go wrong."
Players anticipate general manager Doug Armstrong will shake up the roster.
"I would assume so," All-Star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Army's not a guy who's going to sit back and let this happen year after year."
Shattenkirk agrees that management gave the team every chance to succeed.
"Hundred percent," the defenseman said. "Did we fall short? Absolutely. I know people are frustrated about that, but we care, we really care a lot about that."
The ax could fall on Hitchcock because it's a lot easier to change the coach than overhaul the entire roster.
"Hitch has been the reason why we've been here for four years," Shattenkirk said. "He's hard on us, but he does it because he knows the right way and how to get to this position."
Vladimir Tarasenko led the NHL with six playoff goals and Shattenkirk led with eight assists. But few others lived up to their regular-season pedigree. The Blues totaled 17 goals and Patrik Berglund (2) was the only other player with more than one.
Before Game 6, Hitchcock said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo had been the team's best player overall.
Rookie goalie Jake Allen, who allowed two soft goals in the finale, was the most visible of the outsize group that underperformed. Allen had been impressive earlier in the series, but got yanked in Game 6 after letting one through the five-hole moments after Hitchcock said in a TV interview that he wouldn't be making a goalie change.
"Two terrible goals again. I just let us down," Allen said. "Right now, it's going to sit with me in a terrible way for a while."
Hitchcock thought Allen would learn valuable lessons and added, "I don't think it's time to pile on the goalie or anything like that."
Aside from Tarasenko, there was little offensive production from regular-season standouts Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, T.J. Oshie and captain David Backes. Certainly, Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk and the Wild's overall speed edge had much to do with the failure.
"We win as a team, we lose as a team," Hitchcock said. "I don't want to get into resiliency and all that stuff. Resiliency is an overused word. The biggest thing for us is the timely part of scoring, and the timely part of saves."
The previous two years, going out early was more understandable. Last spring, the Blackhawks were the defending Stanley Cup champions, and two years ago that was the case with the Los Angeles Kings.
The Wild was the hottest team in the NHL the second half of the season. But the Blues had been on top of their game, too, surging past the Predators to win the division.
Brian Elliott saw his only action of the series in a most desperate situation, replacing Allen in net with time running out in Game 6.
"You put everything you have into it every day, your blood and guts, it's a tough feeling," Elliott said. "You can never really describe it, how you feel after the handshake line and you're on the wrong end of it."