ST. LOUIS -- If there was such a thing as a mulligan in the NHL, the Blues probably qualified for it on Tuesday.
To start, this was the third game in four nights in three different cities for the team. Making matters worse was an injury issue, in which the lineup was missing three of its top six forwards, including captain David Backes.
But you get no do-overs on NHL schedules. The Blues had to play the San Jose Sharks at Scottrade Center, ready or not. The result was a 4-2, a third consecutive loss to the Sharks this season.
This time didn't seem like a fair fight. But don't tell Blues forward Alexander Steen that.
"This is the reality of our team right now, and all the teams go through this during the course of the season," Steen said. "There's no excuses. It's part of the game.
"It's an 82-game season and teams go through injuries. We're not the only ones ... This is our team. We know we can win when we play hard. You saw how we played in the second and third periods.
"We just didn't play in the first period, it has nothing to do with the other stuff."
The well-rested Sharks (21-7-6) weren't playing the Blues (22-7-4), per se. They were something closer to a Scottrade house team, one without regulars Backes, Vladimir Sobotka, Jaden Schwartz, Jordan Leopold and Ryan Reaves, to name a few.
That said, the Blues looked familiar in at least one aspect -- they fell behind early by a large margin to the Sharks.
"It's something we're going to have to discuss (today)," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've had just too many of these starts like this.
"We're not engaged quick enough. It was the same start in Columbus, similar start in Ottawa. Same thing. Obviously there's a preparation problem. We have to do a better job -- between coaches and players -- at preparing to function properly checking-wise early."
The Blues trailed 2-0 after 12 minutes 34 seconds, 3-0 after 22 minutes. To their credit, they cut the margin to one entering the third. But an Al Michaels finish wasn't forthcoming.
The Blues have not rallied to win from a three-goal deficit at home since a 7-4 victory over Tampa Bay on Dec. 23, 1993.
The conclusion, if not predictable, was comprehensible. San Jose had outscored the Blues 12-5 in two previous meetings, and now has outscored St. Louis 8-0 in first periods.
"It's like a broken record," said Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored his fourth goal of the season. "We (started well) initially, for a couple of minutes. They got a fortunate bounce on their first goal, but from there we have to pick our heads up."
As if they weren't getting enough bad breaks, the Blues got another one on San Jose's first goal. A shot by Marty Havlat bounced off the partition behind netminder Jaroslov Halak and caromed in front. San Jose's Joe Pavelski banged it home for his 13th goal and a 1-0 lead with 10 minutes 22 seconds to play in the opening period.
A few minutes later, it was Groundhog's Day, as San Jose scored in identical fashion. This time, Justin Braun fired wide of the net and Matt Irwin banged in the carom off the board. Irwin's first goal of the season made it 2-0 Sharks ith 7:26 remaining.
"No, that's really sloppy defensive play," Hitchcock said. "We've been guilty of that for a little while."
Two minutes into the second period, it got worse. Brent Burns walked out from behind Halak to score and the crowd went into 3-0 induced coma.
But the Blues demonstrated some doggedness late in the second. Shattenkirk took a pass from Ian Cole and blasted a shot that caromed in off sliding San Jose defender Andrew Desjardins. The margin was 3-1 with 4:29 remaining in the segment.
The few, the proud, the Blues were still alive. With 24 seconds to play in the period, and the teams 4-on-4, Jay Bouwmeester walked the line before banging another shot by Antti Niemi.
The Blues were pushing the pace, trailing 3-2 as the period ended. But San Jose's fourth goal midway through the third popped the romantic comeback bubble. Havlat swept in a rebound off the post to give the Sharks a 4-2 cushion with just over 11 minutes to play.
It was a maddening game for Halak, who handled 23 saves but not the bounces.
"I don't know how many games we've played here before tonight, but we never scored (on bounces) like that and the opposition never scored like that," Halak said.
"It's bad luck but at the same time we have to play better in the first period again. It starts with me, and we just need to do a better job."
The Blues have a day to regroup before playing host to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. Hopefully, they'll get some players back, as well as some legs.
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