National Hockey League | St. Louis Blues

Win Over Blackhawks Proves the Blues Are a Different Team, Now Bring On the Stars

Monday night was the first time in three games the Blues played a full three periods. From start to finish they were hell-bent on rewriting history, burying a well-deserved postseason reputation deep under the Scottrade ice, and exorcising not only their first-round playoff demons, but a very specific one who wears black and red and hums “Chelsea Dagger” while relentlessly pushing their buttons.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock
Ken Hitchcock logged his 80th career playoff win Monday.

…But the Blues pushed back this time. They played well in Games 1 through 4, but the team who took the ice in Game 7 was different. They were faster, more relentless – reckless, even. For years observers demanded that the Blues reach another level in the postseason and there it was, on display Monday night.

They not only matched the Blackhawks’ intensity, they exceeded it with a level of play that we have not seen in four postseasons prior…

…”But we have knowledge now that we can use. We needed that knowledge. We needed to not just run up against the wall and fall backwards again. We’ve got it now,” Ken Hitchcock said following the Blues’ 3-2 win over the Blackhawks…

This is why you wanted the defending champs in the first round, Blues fan. To actually witness, and not just feel, that this team is different.

To know that they could go to hell and back and be the ones left standing in the end for once. To be pushed to the brink, to be knocked down, and to stand up again to deliver the knockout punch. Some fans didn’t want Chicago in the first round, and understandably so given what has transpired in postseasons past. But the Wild could have never delivered the feeling that fans and the players have right now. It had to be the Blackhawks…

…It also had to be Hitch overcoming Joel Quenneville, who deserves credit for the counter punches he threw in Games 5 and 6, pairing Patrick Kane with Jonathan Toews and moving Marian Hossa and Andrew Ladd to the third line with Marcus Kruger (a trio that thwarted the Blues’ “STL” line at times). Those moves paid off, so much so that spectators like myself demanded that Hitch make his own counter moves, lest the Blues fall victim to a stagnant strategy. Hitch was unwavering with his approach though, believing the Blues didn’t take a 3-1 series lead by accident. He stuck with his lines and trusted the team that took the ice in Games 5 and 6 wouldn’t show up for Game 7.

The players simply executed and for one night and one series, Hitch jammed a cork down the throats of his critics…

…As did Brian Elliott. What a series for the 31-year-old net-minder. His defense failed him in Games 5 and 6, but he stood tall on Monday night, turning aside 31 shots. In the past four seasons he’s been passed over for Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller (ugh), and Jake Allen. The Blues essentially told him he’s not good enough to win in April and yet now they’ll only go as far as he takes them. This is a redemption story that every Blues fan can get behind. Now bring on the Stars…

…Who won’t be easy, by the way. If you thought getting past the Hawks was akin to a root canal, wait until the offensively-talented Stars come to town. Jaime Benn had at least a point in each game of Dallas’ first-round win over Minnesota and in total, finished with four goals and 10 points in the series. Jason Spezza also has four goals and nine points in six games to start the postseason while Patrick Sharp had three goals versus the Wild as well. Yet, despite all that offensive firepower…

The Note have several factors working in their favor heading into this second-round matchup.

First and foremost, the Stars don’t know the health status of Tyler Seguin, who missed the team’s first-round matchup against Minnesota, a team that limped into the postseason. The defending Stanley Cup champions the Wild were not, especially with Devan Dubnyk not resembling anything like the goaltender that ousted the Blues in last year’s postseason…

brian elliott
Brian Elliott made 31 saves in Monday’s Game Seven win.

…And let’s talk goaltending for a second: The Blues have Elliott, the Stars have Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. Niemi won a Cup with the Hawks in 2010 but he owns a horrid .857 save percentage and was therefore benched in favor of Lehtonen for Game 6.

Can the Stars continue to get by with goaltending that’s “just good enough,” especially when they don’t play defense anywhere near the Blues’ level? Advantage: St. Louis…

…Unless the Blues are worn out, of course. If they were just happy to exorcise the Chicago demons and are satisfied with getting out of the first round, the Stars could catch them flatfooted.

The Blues are deeper, more balanced and arguably more talented than the Stars, who narrowly edged St. Louis in points during the regular season. It’s not the matchup that’s concerning, it’s the wear and tear from the Hawks series. Then again, those concerns can be put on hold for the moment…

…Because guess what Blues fan? For the first time in three years, we will have playoff hockey in May.

Read More: Miklasz – Blues Win Game 7, Bring Happiness to St. Louis, Reaffirm the Power of Sports