Blues find their swagger in triple-overtime victory over the Blackhawks
ST. LOUIS — The Blues needed this.
Oh, without a doubt, they needed this.
The Blues’ late-season collapse unfolded over a few weeks in reality, but it seemed like it took longer. It was like the s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n demise of one of the best seasons in franchise history, falling into pieces gradually because of fatigue or injuries or some cruel voodoo black magic from a witch doctor.
Thursday night showed us that the Blues aren’t done quite yet.
The dramatic come-from-behind, 4-3 victory in three overtimes against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series proved that point. They’re back.
"I think in our dressing room, everybody believes that we can go all the way this year," Maxim Lapierre said. "What happened at the end of the year with the six losses, every team goes through this during the season. Maybe we were unlucky we got it right at the wrong time the last six games. But as long as we believe in ourselves, that’s the only thing that matters."
The Blues spent the days between Sunday’s loss to the Red Wings and Thursday’s playoff opener talking about hitting the reset button and getting some much-needed rest for a fresh start in the playoffs.
"We knew coming in it was a brand new season," Jaden Schwartz said. "We’ve got a lot of the injured guys back. It was an exciting game. It was a fun game to be in. This is the funnest time of the year. This is a new season for us. We’ve moved on past that losing streak."
Game 1 afforded the St. Louis players an opportunity to start over. No, they didn’t win the Presidents’ Trophy. Or the Western Conference. And not even the Central Division. All those things that seemed possible, even likely, a few weeks ago were washed away in an avalanche of losses late in the season.
But none of those things really happened. This Blues’ season was really ever going to come down to only one thing — whether they capture that elusive first Stanley Cup.
A comeback win in the longest game in franchise history proved that St. Louis is still a legitimate contender to make a playoff run this spring.
"We’ve had such a good year," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think the players really put a lot into this because they didn’t want this season to just kind of wilt away. So they are going to put up a fight here. Whatever happens, happens."
There was plenty of fight to be found in Game 1.
There was the feisty fourth line and unlikely playoff hero Adam Cracknell, who played just 19 games for the Blues this season, breaking through with the game’s first goal early in the first period.
There was Vladimir Tarasenko capping off his quick return from a broken hand to score a first-period goal.
There was Schwartz, the youngest player skating for the Note, scoring the game-tying goal with 1:45 remaining in regulation after the Blues couldn’t score in the second period or for much of the third.
There was goalie Ryan Miller, who struggled as much as any Blues player down the stretch, allowing three goals on just seven shots in the opening period but then shutting out the high-powered Blackhawks from there.
"You see those saves, (Jonathan) Toews had a two-on-one and (Patrick) Sharp with the breakaway," Alex Pietrangelo said. "That’s why we brought him here. He’s a big-game goalie, and he showed it tonight."
Miller made 39 saves on the 42 shots he faced over 100 minutes of ice time.
There was Pietrangelo, the gold-medal winning defenseman with Team Canada, playing a career-high 44:08 — nearly 20 minutes more than his season average — and blocking a team-high four shots.
Then there was Alexander Steen coming through with the game-winning goal just 26 seconds into the third period, set up by his linemates David Backes and Steve Ott.
If the Blues are able to achieve their ultimate goal in these playoffs, it will be because of the fight they showed in Game 1.
They needed every bit of this.
"We needed it for confidence, I think," Miller said. "I think we needed it to show that stretch we had to finish the season was kind of behind us. So guys needed this, but we have to understand they are a very talented team. It took us a hard-fought game to squeeze out a victory. They’ve got a ton of talent and they’ve got the experience of winning. I’d imagine we’re going to get a really big push-back."
Game 2 on Saturday afternoon will be here soon enough.
There are still many battles left with the rival Blackhawks, but the Blues proved that they are going to fight.
"Every team goes through tough times during the season," Lapierre said. "Ours was just bad timing. It was the end of the year. But every team goes through that. It’s good. It helps with character. You learn about yourself and you know what you have to do better.
"I think tonight was an unreal team effort. Both teams played really well, but we stuck with it. We could have went down and been thinking about the last six games and been negative and all that, but I think tonight we showed how confident of a group we are."