Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Blues top Blackhawks 3-2 in Game 7, win first 
playoff series since 2012 on Brouwer third-period goal

ST. LOUIS -- The dragon has been slayed. The Blues finally accomplished a feat that seemed irrefutable at times but became insufferable.

Four years of frustration and quick finishes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs were erased for at least one night when the Blues eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Game 7 of the Western Conference First Round on Monday at Scottrade Center.

Coincidentally, it was Troy Brouwer that bit the hand that once fed him
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues' Troy Brouwer (left) reacts after scoring what turned out to be the
game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Blackhawks.

Brouwer scored 8 minutes 31 seconds of the third period that held up to be the game-winning goal, and the Blues, who won the series 4-3, advance to the Western Conference Second Round and will play the Dallas Stars.

Brouwer, who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, redirected Robby Fabbri's pass and the puck hit the post. He whiffed on a second try before backhanding a shot past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford to give St. Louis its first Game 7 victory since defeating the Arizona Coyotes in the first round of the 1999 Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

The goal was Brouwer's first in 24 playoff games, dating to May 8, 2013, when he played for the Washington Capitals against the New York Rangers.

"That was the ugliest goal I've ever scored and probably the most timely goal I've ever scored," said Brouwer, who played for the Blackhawks from from 2006-11. "I was joking with (Fox Sports Midwest color analyst Darren Pang) that if I didn't put that one in, I might quit hockey. 

"I just tried to stay with it; knowing the magnitude of the game, knowing how everything's been going. We'd been having great opportunities but haven't been able to put them in."

Fabbri made the initial play in the neutral zone when he knocked Blackhawks defenseman Erik Gustafsson off the puck and got it turned around going the other way. Center Paul Stastny found Fabbri before he slotted the puck to Brouwer.

Brent Seabrook nearly tied it for the Blackhawks with 3:30 remaining, but his shot through traffic hit each goal post. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was there to clean up the crease in front of Elliott and backhand the puck out of danger.

"I just got back as quick as I could," Pietrangelo said. "I got it at the last second. A half a second later and it's in our net."

Jori Lehtera and Colton Parayko scored in the first period for the Blues, and Brian Elliott made 31 saves in the first Game 7 start of his NHL career.

"Every game was just packed with a sense of urgency and emotion," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Every game felt like its own sudden death game. It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun to coach in it, to play in it, to strategize in it, it was a lot of fun.

"It was real eye-opening what a championship team can do like them when they can dial it up. You find yourself on the bench just in awe with some of the things they do. We had to find a way to battle through it. We knew that there was going to be a push. It came and came hard. You play in a series like this, you see why that team has won three (Stanley) Cups." 

The Blackhawks, who were eliminated in the first round for the first time since the Coyotes eliminated them in 2012, got goals from Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw. Crawford made 23 saves; he's 2-3 in Game 7 in his NHL career. 

Chicago is the first defending Stanley Cup champion to lose in the first round since the Boston Bruins in 2012. 

"Tough way to go out," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who coincidentally was coach of the Blues' last Game 7 on home ice in 2000. "We had the perfect setup there and we did exactly what we’re not supposed to do or what we’re unaccustomed to doing, and it’s in our net and it’s game, set, match.

"Huge disappointment for me. ... In first rounds, that felt like the conference finals."   

Lehtera scored the first NHL playoff goal of his career at 1:00 of the first when he tipped Jay Bouwmeester's shot from the left point to give the Blues a 1-0 lead.

"Ville Nieminen once told me, 'If you want pizza, you go to Pizza Hut,'" Lehtera said. '"If you want to score goals, you go to the net.'"

Parayko made it 2-0 when he scored his second NHL playoff goal at 13:43. Alexander Steen pinched behind the net and got the puck to Patrik Berglund, who fed Parayko for a big slap shot from the blue line.

"Everyone is telling me to shoot, so I let it go," Parayko said. "Good things happen when you shoot the puck, I guess. Equipment guy challenged me to eight shots tonight. Didn't quite get there. Anything I can do to help contribute to make our team win is something I'm going to do every night.

"... Yeah, obviously a Game 7, get the chance to try and move on to the next round. One step closer to getting the job the done. It's something you grow up wanting to do. When you get the opportunity like this with such a great team, it's something you want to really cherish and not take for granted. We can do it together. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Chicago had an answer late in the first. The Blackhawks broke out an ill-advised pass by Lehtera in the offensive zone for Jaden Schwartz, who fell to the ice. Richard Panik fed Hossa, who used Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson as a screen and beat Elliott high to the short side from the top of the right circle with 1:30 remaining in the period. 

The Blackhawks tied it on the power play in the second period, when Shaw scored his fourth goal of the playoffs. After Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was called for hooking Marcus Kruger, Shaw’s cross-crease pass to Hossa caromed off Bouwmeester and past Elliott at 3:20.

"That was my fault," Bouwmeester said. "You try to go down and block the pass, but you can’t go down in the middle of the net. ‘Cause then it hits you and does what it did.

"It was a pretty good relief when we got the third one."

That's when the veterans spoke up. There were 20 minutes remaining, 20 minutes to win and save their season, and save another off-season of uncertainty and perhaps an implosion of a lineup, coaching staff and perhaps front office.

"It was a combination of a couple of guys who have gone through it all ... 'Brouws,' 'Otter' ... the leadership group," Parayko said. "They just said we've got to stick with our game plan and good things are going to happen. That's what we did, we got pucks deep, made it hard on their players to make plays. That's what we had on our game plan, make it tough on them to get any momentum. Obviously they're going to at some point, but if you can keep that limited, that's the best thing for us."

Once Brouwer scored, the Blues felt Chicago would have a big push, not just at the end but in the entire game. 

"I'm sure leaving Game 6, they probably thought they had us cracked," Hitchcock said of the Blackhawks. "They pushed us back hard and we had no answer for Game 6. We came back and had an answer tonight. That's what I mean about that knowledge, that inner thing if you're going to succeed long-term as a franchise. Whatever happens as we move forward, happens. I mean, we're going to play a hell of a hockey club. 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."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) shakes hands with Blackhawks captain
Jonathan Toews at the conclusion of Game 7.

And for Elliott, who should feel a sense of vindication after being passed over time after time when the playoffs came around, this one must feel nice.

"It's hard to put into words what that means when it comes together on your side," Elliott said. "I'm really proud of our guys to go into a third period tied against a team that's done it and come out on top like we did.

"When the buzzer goes off, I'm watching the clock with two seconds left and 'Backs' is kind of coming towards me. It's kind of hard to believe that all that hard work in a seven-game series comes together and you come out on top. I'm proud of the guys."

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