ST. LOUIS--This was one of those special nights, the kind of Saturday night that established hockey in St. Louis some 46 years ago. There was a premium opponent on the ice, standing room only on the perimeter and a vibrant atmosphere in the building.
The Blues came marching in, anxious to rise to the occasion. But they came limping out, lamenting a 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
Coming on the heels of a 4-1 loss to Los Angeles on Thursday, it was the first time the Blues have suffered back-to-back defeats in regulation at home this season. It also represented the team's third loss in four games.
All of a sudden, this season of franchise firsts is turning a bit peaked.
"We're a team right now that needs everybody engaged," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We need four lines, six defensemen playing to their potential, and we need our goalies playing well.
"We're not a team that can have one or two players carry us. We need everybody, and right now we don't have everybody engaged."
After falling behind 3-0, the Blues made a frantic attempt to steal the outcome, getting two goals in the last 10 minutes 48 seconds, pressing for a third in the waning moments.
But keep in mind the Ducks were playing for the second night in a row and third time in four nights. The failed comeback only made the final result sting a little more.
"The third period, I think maybe they started to get tired from the game yesterday and traveling," Blues forward David Backes said. "We started to step on the gas. But a three-goal deficit in this league against any team is tough, and against the good teams it's a real tall order."
This was a rebound game for both sides. The Ducks, who lead the NHL with 79 points, had an eight-game winning streak snapped in Chicago on Friday. The Blues had a seven-game streak broken in Vancouver, then saw a five-game home winning streak extinguished in a loss to Los Angeles on Thursday.
Both teams were playing an NHL heavyweight for the second game in succession. For the Blues it was a second straight disappointment.
The River City Six is 31-3-5 against the NHL at-large, 1-7 against the teams from California -- Anaheim (0-2), Los Angeles (1-2) and San Jose (0-3).
"Doesn't matter where the team's from, we need a maximum effort from everybody," Backes said. "And that's myself first."
As happened against L.A., the Blues fell behind early, the last thing you want against a top-checking team. Anaheim is 28-1-3 when getting the first goal.
And they got it this time 5:27 into the game. Ryan Getzlaf stepped into the slot and beat Brian Elliott for his 25th goal, tying his career best.
The Ducks had a slight edge in shots, 8-7, a more significant edge in the play and took their 1-0 lead to the first intermission.
The visitors made is 2-0 just 2:27 into the second on a frustrating goal. Matt Beleskey fired a hard shot from inside the faceoff circle. Handcuffed, Elliott made the save initially but the disc dribbled in behind him. Had he held on a split-second more, a whistle might have blown.
"It was a hard shot," Elliott said. "I tried to squeeze it. I thought I'd get the whistle. It's a goal you definitely want back, but that's the game."
Whatever energy remained in the house evaporated altogether when the Ducks made it 3-0 midway through the second. With Steen off for interference, Cam Fowler blasted a 50-foot shot through traffic and by Elliott.
In six of the seven losses to the California three, the Blues have fallen behind 3-0. When they beat the Blues 5-2 on Dec. 7, the Ducks also went ahead 3-0 after playing in Chicago the night before.
This was deja P-U all over again.
"It's disappointing that we're having that kind of record and kind of play against those teams," Baret Jackman said. "We weren't working together, weren't communicating, not doing a lot of the little things we've been so good at all year.
"We need more guys to find a way to get engaged at the beginning off the game, whether it's a hit, or a pass, or just talking on the bench.
"We need a little more life ... it's going to have to start with our leaders and go from there."
As the third period began, it was going to be a truly special night -- as in one of the great comebacks in franchise history -- or another unsettling gaze into the postseason crystal ball.
It was almost the former.
The Blues broke through with Jackman's second goal of the season while 10:48 remained.
That's when a title wave threatened. Jaden Schwartz popped a rebound over goaltender Frederik Andersen with 5:29 to play. Schwartz had his 16th goal and the big crowd had something to believe in.
A game that appeared long lost incredibly was within reach. But the too-little, too-late flourish fell short.
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