CHICAGO — It was quickly approaching midnight in the Windy City and "Chelsea Dagger" was still blaring out of the speakers at the United Center, the sound no opposing team wants to hear.
Blues goalie Ryan Miller sat quietly at his locker stall in the visiting dressing room, staring into space as his teammates dressed and the media swarmed in to ask what happened, where it all went wrong and what comes next.
Game 4 of this tight Western Conference first-round playoff series will go down as another classic overtime thriller. But the Blues were left to pick up the pieces after overcoming a two-goal deficit, taking a lead with 7:33 remaining on Vladimir Tarasenko’s second goal of the night, then watching the Blackhawks tie it up late and win it 4-3 in overtime late Wednesday.
"It’s just unfortunate," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I now kind of know how Joel (Quenneville) feels. Tit for tat."
Quenneville, the former Blues coach who has hoisted the Stanley Cup twice in his time with the Blackhawks, watched the Blues tie the first two games late in the third period and then win them in sudden death in St. Louis.
But after the Blues opened the series by holding serve with those two wins at home, the Blackhawks returned the favor in Chicago, turning this best-of-seven series into a best-of-three beginning Friday at Scottrade Center.
"You can’t say enough about how competitive it’s been for four games," Quenneville said. "Huge win for us."
Yeah, Chicago flipped the script Wednesday, leaving many of the sellout crowd of 22,123 singing the chorus of The Fratellis’ song that has become the Blackhawks’ anthem.
"They’ve got the momentum now. We have to take it back," Hitchcock said. "We’ve got two of three at home, but we have to take the momentum back. These have been two really hard-fought games here. This is a momentum builder for them, and we have to find a way to regroup and take it back from them. That’s a big challenge for us and I think we’re up to it, but we’re gonna have to have a little bit of a heart-to-heart and get back on our toes again. The way we played in the second and third period was really good, and that’s what we’ve got to get back to as much as we can."
For as well as the visitors played in the 2-0 shutout loss in Game 3, they struggled for much of the first two periods of Game 4, falling behind as the Blackhawks scored twice in the second stanza — on a power-play goal by Andrew Shaw and then a back-door sneak attack by Patrick Kane.
The Blues came to life with two goals in the final 69 seconds of the second period, showing the kind of resilience many expected after outplaying the Blackhawks for most of Game 3.
Tarasenko scored a power-play goal on a wrister from beyond the left circle with 1:09 remaining — the Blues now have two tallies on the advantage in 21 chances in this series, and he has both — and then Maxim Lapierre tied it with 3.1 seconds left on a shot that hit the right post, bounced off goalie Corey Crawford and trickled into the net.
On a day when most of the talk centered around whether David Backes would be returning from the upper-body injury he suffered late in Game 2 (he didn’t), the Blues showed the fortitude they needed to punch back without him.
Tarasenko put St. Louis in front with his fourth goal of the playoffs with 7:33 remaining and it looked like that might be enough for the Blues to steal the win and take a 3-1 series lead back to Scottrade.
Instead, it was the Blackhawks taking a page out of the Blues’ playbook by grinding out the tying goal from Bryan Bickell with 3:52 remaining after an extended stay in the offensive zone.
Both teams had opportunities in the overtime, but it was Kane who won it with a wrister 11:17 into the extra period — his second goal of the night and third in four games — to deadlock the series.
"Where the game was lost was when we took it over and we’re up 3-2 and we missed those four chances," Hitchcock said. "We could’ve been up 4 or 5-2. We left it out there and got caught in our zone. Then in the overtime we had chances to shoot the puck three times in the zone and didn’t put it on the net. We wanted to stick-handle one more time."
The Blues still have the upper hand in this series, with two of the final three games at home.
"We knew it was going to be a tough battle, and I think we’re right where we want to be," Lapierre said. "We won our two games at home, we came here, we played good hockey and now we have to focus, regroup and do good in St. Louis again. … You’re playing the Stanley Cup champions. Obviously, you’re going to have a tight battle. You’re not going to just take the wins and go home."
Maybe so. But this was a missed opportunity that could come back to haunt the Blues. That’s what they will remember from their trip to Chicago.