NHL PLAYOFF THRILLER
Blues edge Hawks in Game 7
This has been the city of slumped shoulders if you love your hockey Blues, a city that never seems to do anything but weep at playoff time. But the tears, for one night, became cheers.
Dead Men Skating? Not the Blues. The dreaded Blackhawks.
Chicago’s out of the post-season, their hold on the Stanley Cup gone.
And the Blues, for once, can look in the mirror and say “OK, we just beat the champs, bring everybody else on.”
That one playoff series win (San Jose in 2012) in the last 13 seasons has now become two with a fantastic seventh-game 3-2 win over the Blackhawks Monday.
No more talk of past failures. Just present successes.
People like David Backes and Alex Steen, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk had heard far too much about losing, but kids like Robby Fabbri, who set up Troy Brouwer’s winner and Colton Parayko, who blew a shot past Corey Crawford, were all about today, not yesterday.
When asked in the morning if he’d guarantee a Blues’ victory, Shattenkirk blanched, though.
“Me? I’m not Mark Messier, not one of the top point guys of all time. I can’t make that guarantee ... I don’t think what I’d say would hold much weight,” said the defenceman. Maybe what captain David Backes said resonated more, after the morning skate.
“Time to write a different story,” said Backes, who has been here for 10 years. “You guys can write as much as you want now that we’ve turned the page on the first round. Now we have to concentrate and let you write another optimistic, positive story in the second round (Dallas Stars). Keep them churning out and everyone will be happy.”
“I don’t think we learned anything about ourselves tonight,” he said. “None of this has been easy, we’ve had some tough lessons the last few years (three first-round exits). There were a lot of naysayers, lots of people who counted us out but in the end it’s one round and there’s eight teams left. One of us is going to be the Stanley Cup champion and we had to put a lot into this to be one heckuva team.”
Maybe there was no pronouncement of a Blues’ win, but maybe they should have asked Brouwer, the former Hawks’ winger who won a Cup in Chicago in 2010, and, in a piece of poetic justice got the game-winner in the third when he wildly shovelled a backhand past Corey Crawford after he’d first hit the post as he took a feed from Fabbri.
“Ugliest goal I’ve ever scored, but the most timely. If I don’t put that one in, I quit. The puck was chopped up a couple of times before it went in,” laughed Brouwer, who hadn’t scored a playoff goal in 24 games going back to 2013.
“Man, the whole bench was trying to push that one in. It was like minigolf,” chuckled Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock, who breathed a huge sigh of relief when the goal went in. “Looked like he almost kicked it. I’d have had a heart attack if that was the case.”
When the final horn went, the full-house in the building and a city exhaled.
Brouwer acknowledged they had slayed a dragon.
“This is a big feeling for us, the way the team has struggled to get out of the first round ... beating the defending champions, I mean it seems like they’ve won or been in the conference finals every year. It’s such a prestigious team.” said Brouwer.
This was a good-to-the-last-drop game that could easily have been game seven of the Cup final in June, not game seven of round one in April. It was phenomenal theatre.
“I don’t know if it’s a milestone,” said Hitchcock. “But, it’s a hump (they got past). I’m sure they thought after Game 6 (6-3 win) they had cracked us. I mean it’s eye-opening to see what a championship team can do, the way they can dial it up. But now we have the knowledge of what it takes. We have the emotional knowledge of how deep you have to dig. We’ve hit the wall a few times in the past but this time we pushed through.”
The Blues scored early (Jori Lehtera and Parayko) in the game’s first 14 minutes and late by Brouwer and they overcame the Hawks, who were 14-3 in their previous 17 series and 13-4 in elimination games sine 2009.
Chicago rallied from two goals down as Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw got the game square, but the Blues, a team that’s been kicked in the teeth for years, prevailed — barely.
Brent Seabrook hit both goalposts on a shot with four minutes to play — the right, then the left on a slapper from the right-point before defenceman Alex Pietrangelo cleared it from the crease.
When the double-banger off the iron stayed out, the Hawks were out.
“It’s fun having short summers ... obviously we’re going to have a longer one now,” said Hawks’ defenceman Duncan Keith, who played 33 1/2 minutes.
“The way this series went, you just knew it would come down one goal at the end,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who didn’t score in the seven games but had six assists.
With the Blues changing their game-day routine by staying in a downtown hotel, they did what they had to do when everybody was talking about them gassing the series.
They didn’t order up a room service Game 7 win.
But for the first time in their history they beat a reigning Stanley Cup champion.
“To beat the Hawks ... yeah, it’s a big boost for us,” said defenceman Jay Bouwmeester.