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Blues GM says Blackhawks loss stings because sense of opportunity squandered

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ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Blues won a franchise record 52 games this season and general manager Doug Armstrong can't help but sum it up as a disappointment.

"We're in the winning business and we're not winning at the appropriate time of the year," Armstrong said Tuesday. "We have to fix that."

The past two playoffs have been a carbon copy for the Blues.

In 2013, St. Louis won the first two games against Los Angeles at home and then dropped the next four to the then-defending Stanley Cup champions. This season, St. Louis got the jump on defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago, then again lost four straight to end the season.

Armstrong said that this year's loss to the Blackhawks was worse.

"I felt last year that we were coming off of a year where no one expected us to be good the year before and we wanted to prove that we were a good team," Armstrong said. "I expected us to take it to a higher level this year and the higher level was going to be a consistent regular season followed by a longer playoff run. So, this year, there's a true sense that we have squandered an opportunity and opportunities don't come a lot in this league."

While the Blues have been one of the best teams each of the past three regular seasons — St. Louis had 60 points in a lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign and 109 points in 2011-12 — it has been a different story in April.

Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock said that the Blues need to develop a killer instinct if they are to get over their post-season hump.

"We weren't able to create the gap in Games 3 and 4 and win on the road, which you have to do in the playoffs," Hitchcock said. "That's the killer instinct that you need to have. We weren't able to do it in either series, and it hurts.

"That's everyone's responsibility. Mine, Doug's, the players, other coaches, everybody. That's the part that hurts. We couldn't apply the killer instinct in Games 3 and 4 when we needed to in both years."

Several players have been a part of the past three seasons, and figure to be part of the puzzle moving forward: forwards T.J. Oshie, Alexander Steen and David Backes, and defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo.

Armstrong said it his responsibility to see if this core group can get to a new level or whether changes are needed.

"I look at the regular season success this team has had over the last three years," Armstrong said "I think our point total is probably in the top three or four in the NHL over that time frame. So, we're doing some things correctly. But we're not doing enough correctly to win in April, May and June. Quite honestly, I got to quit worrying about May. We got to get out of April first and we're not doing that."

One area that will need to be addressed is goaltending. The Blues thought they had added the final piece when the traded for Ryan Miller just before the deadline. But Miller, who is a free agent, allowed 19 goals against the Blackhawks and his save percentage was just .897.

Armstrong said that Jake Allen, who had another strong year in the American Hockey League, will be one of the team's net minders. Who the will partner with Allen is up in the air.

"It's a two-way street with Ryan right now," Armstrong said. "He has opportunities. I want to sit and talk with him and get his feelings about our organization. See where he thinks we're at, see if he even has any interest in being a St. Louis Blue."

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