ST. LOUIS – Ryan Miller was supposed to be the piece the St. Louis Blues needed to make a deep playoff run and perhaps at long last win a first Stanley Cup. The highly-decorated goalie was among those falling fall short for a franchise smarting from another early exit, and he might not be back.
The team scheduled availabilities for general manager Doug Armstrong, coach Ken Hitchcock and players for Tuesday.
Hitchcock deflected questions about the 34-year-old Miller, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent, after the Blues were eliminated Sunday in Chicago. The Blues could opt to go with prospect Jake Allen, called the franchise goalie of the future by Armstrong when the Miller deal was made.
“I don’t get into long-term stuff. That’s Doug’s department,” Hitchcock said. “He played good for us. I’m sure there’s some goals that he’d like to have back, just like any goalie would. We win as a team and lose as a team.”
Asked how he played, Miller said: “I’m going to sit down and think about that. Not good enough, I guess.”
The Blues were among the NHL’s best before a six-game losing streak to end the regular season landed them with a tougher first-round draw. For the second straight year they were knocked out in four straight by the defending Stanley Cup champion after taking a 2-0 series lead. Last season, it was the Kings. This time, it was Chicago.
It was small consolation that before the Blackhawks’ four-goal third period in Game 6, the difference was razor-thin. The first five games were decided by one goal, discounting an empty-netter by the Blackhawks in the final minute of Game 3.
“You’ve got to bring your game every night, every shift, every period,” captain David Backes said Sunday. “I sound like a broken record here. Finding ways to win those close games, they did and we didn’t.”
Miller was acquired from Buffalo on Feb. 28 along with forward Steve Ott in a deal that cost the Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart and a first-round pick in 2015. He made $6.25 million last season.
“I’ve just got to take things as they come right now,” he said, adding, “I guess I’m free to go to my sister-in-law’s wedding.”
Miller would like to stay, but acknowledged he wasn’t sure how the Blues “feel about me.” He had a 2.70 goals-against average and .897 save percentage in the series.
Hitchcock wasn’t pinning the team’s failure on the goalie. He noted the Blackhawks split the defence on the go-ahead goal and the Blues surrendered a breakaway on the third goal, which he called “a back-breaker.”
Just as important, they couldn’t capitalize on scoring chances. St. Louis was 2 for 29 on the power play in the series.
“I’ll take more than my share of the blame,” Backes said. “I’m counted on to produce and I didn’t produce. I’ll think about that a lot this summer and drive the engine going into next year.”
Injuries factored into the early exit.
Backes missed two games with stiffness in his neck after an illegal hit by Brent Seabrook, who was suspended for three games. T.J Oshie also wasn’t quite himself coming off a blow to the head late in the regular season and Patrik Berglund was no factor coming off a shoulder injury, scoreless and minus-7 in four games.
Vladimir Tarasenko was a breakout star early in the series and had four goals, one of them forcing overtime with 6.4 seconds to go in Game 3. But he was scoreless the last two games.
The Blues defence got burned on an ill-timed change in the pivotal Game 5, leading to Jonathan Toews’ overtime winner.
Barret Jackman was minus-5, Jaden Schwartz minus-4. Backes, Oshie, Ott and Roman Polak were all minus-3.
“We all need to look in the mirror and assess how we did and we didn’t do, and take that gut check,” Backes said. “No offence to you guys,” he added to reporters, “but these interviews are getting a little sickening to have in April and not in June.”