ST. LOUIS — They played for more than 100 minutes. They took 109 faceoffs and fired 94 shots and made 87 saves and threw 69 hits and blocked 50 shots. They traded scoring chances and close calls, and it all piled up into an exhilarating, exhausting playoff opener.
Either team could have won. Neither team wanted it more.
But one team needed it more.
When Alex Steen scored 26 seconds into the third overtime period on Thursday night, he didn’t just give the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. He didn’t just win the longest game in the Blues’ 47-year history. He helped the Blues believe that this season, as coach Ken Hitchcock said, wasn’t going to “just kind of melt away.”
[Watch: Blues score late tying goal and again in triple OT]
“I think I jumped about three feet,” said goaltender Ryan Miller. “Just happy to get that win. … We needed it for confidence, I think. We needed it to show that stretch we had to finish the season was kind of behind us.”
The Blues were one of the best teams in the NHL in the regular season. After years of trying to break through in the playoffs, they thought this might be their time. But they sent several players to the Sochi Olympics, and they came back gassed, and it caught up with them down the stretch, and injuries hit. They lost their final six games.
Now here they were facing the Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions, in the first damn round. Some players were back from injuries, including David Backes and Vladimir Tarasenko, but T.J. Oshie and Patrick Berglund weren’t.
The loss was not good for Chicago. “It stings right now, obviously,” said winger Patrick Kane. But this is an experienced, accomplished team that has rebounded before.
“I think we’re going to keep the morale, keep the feeling in our locker room positive and feeling good,” said captain Jonathan Toews. “Let this one sink in, and maybe we can be ticked off about it for a few moments here. But then tonight and tomorrow, it’s time to move on.”
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A loss would have been worse for St. Louis, especially with Game 2 set for 2 p.m. local time Saturday. The Blues would have had less than 40 hours to get over all the opportunities and breaks that would have been wasted, and there were lots of opportunities and lots of breaks.
As bad as the first period went for the Blues, with Miller allowing three goals on the first seven shots he faced, they outshot the Blackhawks, 11-7; and Derek Roy hit a post; and they trailed only 3-2.
They were outshot in the second, 8-3, but they had the best chance, with Corey Crawford diving to his right to rob Tarasenko, the puck hitting the goalie’s right arm just above the blocker.
They took over in the third as the Blackhawks tried to cling to their lead. They outshot the ’Hawks, 14-6. Max Lapierre hit a post. Hitchcock said they looked like themselves again. But they didn’t tie it until only 1:45 remained in regulation, when Jaden Schwartz forced a turnover in the left-wing corner, went to the net, took a feed from Roy and scored on a backhander.
“We needed to at least get the game into overtime,” Hitchcock said. “By doing that, it engaged us. It engaged our fans.”
[Related: Ryan Miller leaves nothing to chance in pursuit of Stanley Cup]
Imagine if the Blues had lost after that. Imagine if they had lost after the first OT, when Miller made a big save on Kris Versteeg, when they survived an endless onslaught by the Blackhawks, when Alex Pietrangelo whiffed on a puck in the slot with the net wide open.
“Let’s not talk about that one,” said the Blues defenseman with a laugh.
He can laugh now.
Imagine if they had lost when they killed a delay-of-game penalty, when Chicago’s Brandon Saad pushed Lapierre into the St. Louis net – and Lapierre, stationed behind Miller, acted like a goalie and saved a Versteeg shot that would have ended it.
“I think I’ve got to work on my rebounds a little bit,” Lapierre said. “It went right back in the slot.”
He laughed. He can laugh now, too.
“That’s how these kind of games go,” said Miller, who wasn’t laughing. “You get lucky on a few situations, and you’ve got to battle through the rest.”
Imagine if they had lost after double OT, when Miller made a big save on Toews, when they killed another delay-of-game penalty, when they got a power play of their own, when Miller stoned Patrick Sharp on a breakaway.
Imagine if they had lost after drinking all that water and Gatorade, after eating all those energy bars and downing all that fruit. Pietrangelo, who played 44:08, more than three minutes more than any other skater in the game, said he ate oatmeal between overtime periods. Anything for fuel.
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“That’s playoff hockey,” Pietrangelo said. “They get a breakaway. We have a 2-on-1. They have a 2-on-1. We missed an open net. The puck’s bouncing. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I know they knew it wasn’t going to be easy, either. We just stuck with the game plan.
“I was extremely impressed with the way we stuck to what we spoke about before the game. We played the game we wanted to play. We managed the puck. We played hard. Guys were winning battles. The effort guys were showing was extremely impressive.”
Well, the Blues don’t have to imagine. They won. They said the hard part now would be not getting too high, but that’s a nice problem to have, isn’t it? Sure beats not getting too low.
“I think in our dressing room everybody believes that we can go all the way this year,” Lapierre said. “You know what? What happened at the end of the year with the six losses, every team goes through something like that during the season. Maybe we were unlucky. We got it at the wrong time, the last six games. But as long as we believe in ourselves, that’s the only thing that matters.”
It’s a little easier this morning.
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