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ACKERMAN: A New Era of Blues Hockey

Tom Ackerman
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Dustin Brown #23 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates his goal for a 2-1 lead in front of  Brian Elliott #1 and Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues during the first period in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on May 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Dustin Brown #23 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates his goal for a 2-1 lead in front of Brian Elliott #1 and Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues during the first period in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on May 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) — I know, I know.  The Blues stunk against the Kings.

I didn’t enjoy it, either.  Hated it, actually.  A wonderfully entertaining run by the home club went “poof” in a nine-day romp by a superior team from Los Angeles.  The Kings were faster, stronger, smarter.  And the Blues were lousy.

There were dumb penalties, costly turnovers, missed opportunities.  The Blues were taken out of their game.  Basically, they were given a heavy dose of their own medicine.

How could they let this happen, you ask?

Welcome to the Stanley Cup playoffs.  I know it’s been a while, so here’s a reminder of how to describe the NHL postseason in one word…

Survival.

The Kings took the Blues out of the series in Game 1.  Goaltender Jonathan Quick entered their brains when he made spectacular saves in the first period.  Then LA’s Dwight King shoved stud defenseman Alex Pietrangelo from behind in a shameful play in the second period — and the officials put blinders on.  The Kings’ top scorers turned on the jets.  And the Blues could not recover emotionally.  The letdown began.

As much as it hurts, a 109-point regular season, a Central Division title and a first-round series victory have to be chalked up as a learning experience for the Blues.

They’ve been educated on what life is like in this league — once May rolls around.  This is a month for the players who have had their hearts broken a few times.  The players who have been bruised, beaten up.  The survivors.

The Kings took it to them, and that was that.

When the Blues started this rebuilding phase under owner Dave Checketts, president John Davidson, general manager Doug Armstrong (with outgoing GM Larry Pleau) and assistant GM Jarmo Kekalainen, their plan was to make the organization a long-term success story.  This was going to be a process, they said.

“Come grow with us,” Davidson told us.

None of that has changed.  The latest chapter was the emergence of the kids that came up through the system: Pietrangelo, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, David Perron.  More are on the way: talented young forwards Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko could be playing together on this club next season.

Schwartz is 19 years old.  Tarasenko is 20.  Welcome aboard, boys.

Here’s your coach, Ken Hitchcock.  He’s 60.  “Hitch” returned to the NHL in a big way, installing a winning system in St. Louis in mere months.  A finalist for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year, one wonders what Hitchcock could accomplish in a full year’s time.

Armstrong, who brought Hitchcock into the fold, is willing to make aggressive moves to make the team better.  After Tom Stillman’s ownership team is established and properly introduced to the world, the next order of business should be for Stillman to hand Armstrong a couple of checks: one for his contract extension and another to expand the team’s payroll.

There will be changes on this roster; you can count on that.  Defensemen Barret Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo are unrestricted free agents.  The Blues are in need of a top-flight goal scorer if they can land one.  Snipers don’t miss empty-net opportunities.  It’s time to upgrade, just like the Kings improved their playoff teams from one year to the next.

An underrated fact about the Blues: they possess one of the most passionate followings in sports.  Blues fans have been incredibly patient, waiting on the rebuild, buying tickets and jerseys and flocking to Scottrade Center to see their boys grow up.  The second-round ouster by the Kings is especially frustrating considering the caliber of play, following one of the best regular seasons in team history.

But is the best yet to come?

Hopefully, the club puts the pedal down and takes its best shot at improving the product.

In one of the NHL’s best hockey towns, a 44-year wait continues.

Tom Ackerman is Sports Director at KMOX.  He can be heard weekday mornings at :15 and :45 past the hour on “Total Information A.M.”  Follow him on Twitter: @Ackerman1120.

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