Cracknell’s resilience pays off for Blues in Game 1
ST. LOUIS — Adam Cracknell had 35 text messages waiting for him when he finally reached his cell phone late Thursday night following the Blues’ dramatic come-from-behind, three-overtime victory against the Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"It was 35," Cracknell said. "I remember it. It was all my buddies, my family. Everyone was excited. It was on national television, so everyone got to watch it. It was definitely huge."
Cracknell, who has shuttled this season between the Blues and their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, was definitely huge for St. Louis on Thursday. He scored a goal in the first period that set the tone for the night and snapped a scoreless drought after the injury-depleted Blues were shut out in their final two regular-season games.
The 28-year-old forward was part of a fourth line with Maxim Lapierre and Chris Porter that made a big impact Thursday — they were a combined plus-3 with 12 shots on goal and 11 hits — and could continue to make its mark in this series against the reigning Stanley Cup champs.
"We talk as a line before a game that we have to create energy," Cracknell said. "To win a Stanley Cup and go far in the playoffs you need your third and fourth lines to be deep and help out scoring goals offensively and being smart defensively, and we got rewarded last night."
Uncertainty about the availability of injured forwards T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund kept Blues coach Ken Hitchcock from saying Friday afternoon whether he would keep that trio together for Game 2 on Saturday afternoon. But the coach was impressed with that line’s performance.
"They were good," Hitchcock said. "They were good with the puck. They protected the puck, they created scoring chances, they followed the script and they really played well as a line together. … They did the things we needed them to do. We were hoping. For us to do well they needed to draw even, and they did more than draw even."
That line entered Thursday’s game with an interesting mix of experience.
Lapierre had played in 69 playoff games previously during his time with Montreal and Vancouver, including 25 games in 2011 when the Canucks lost a seven-game series against the Boston Bruins in the Cup finals.
Porter’s and Cracknell’s previous playoff experience all came in last year’s first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings. Porter appeared in all six games, while Cracknell played in five.
But Cracknell said that experience a year ago, when he and Porter were paired with Ryan Reaves on the "CPR" line, helped Thursday.
"I think we came out with the same amount of energy but more composure this year," Cracknell said. "We’re stopping pucks, we’re playing with more puck possession down there, we’re getting more shots. We’re maybe not as nervous. That was our first playoffs together. … We want to create stuff more offensively and play with the puck and be more controlled."
It’s taken some time for Cracknell to get to this point.
Nothing has come easily for the Saskatchewan native during his pro hockey career — from being drafted by Calgary in the ninth round (No. 279 overall) in the 2004 draft to his first chance in the NHL with the Blues during the 2010-11 season to his splitting time between the Blues and Wolves this winter.
"Five years ago I got a chance with Davis Payne," Cracknell said of the former Blues coach. "He gave me a chance in Peoria and I ended up going and playing down there with him and developing my game. He gave me a lot bigger role. My first call-up he was coaching. It was my second year in Peoria. There were a lot of injuries in St. Louis (in 2010-11). I got an opportunity to play (24) games and show them what I could do at this level. So far it’s been working well.
"This year has been tough, but at the same time it hasn’t slowed me down. It has made me a better player. I got to play a lot of games (with the Wolves). I came in here with a lot more confidence with the puck and making good plays and just looking forward to keep going with the playoffs."
Cracknell’s most recent call-up came April 11, less than one week before the start of the playoffs, because of the rash of injuries to Blues forwards.
"One day I’m sitting in Des Moines, Iowa, getting ready to play the Iowa Stars and now I’m here playing Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs," he said. "It changes quick, but it was definitely an exciting phone call to get."
And it was another opportunity to show what he could do at this level, one that earned him a spot in the lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs after dressing for just 19 games this season and contributing only two assists.
But it speaks to Cracknell’s resilience that there he was early in the first period on Thursday night, putting home a rebound for his first career playoff goal in arguably the biggest game of his career.
"There’s been a lot of people maybe in the hockey world that felt I couldn’t earn a spot here, and I want to prove certain people wrong and prove the people that support me (are) right," Cracknell said. "I’ve always wanted to play in the NHL and you only get one time to try to do this."
Cracknell is doing just that, and much more, for the Blues these days.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.