Sunday, April 22, 2012

City, fans embracing Blues fever

Players recognize significance of playoff victory, realize it's only the beginning

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues scored twice in 45 seconds to grab the game -- and series -- from the San Jose Sharks, the deafening roar inside the building at 14th and Clark Streets saw its decibel level rise to uncharted waters.

"It was deafening," said winning goalie Brian Elliott, who stopped 26 shots in improving to 3-0 in the series. "I've never heard anything like that. It's only going to get louder from here on out, but ... unbelievable. I couldn't even hear myself think out there."

Added captain David Backes: "There were some goosebumps, but I like goosebumps. I hope they happen a lot more."
(Getty Images)
Blues fans have flocked to Scottrade Center in droves to support their
Blues. A capacity crowd of 19,490 witnessed Saturday's series win.

Backes is counting on it, considering what he remembers when he first stepped onto home ice for the first time in his career.

"When I came here six years ago, you could maybe count the people up in the stands," he said. "There were probably 9,000 ... it was half full. You didn't know if you were playing a home game or an away game.

"Now with the rally towels or whatever and with all the screams, it's a good feeling to see where this franchise has come and what direction we're headed in."

With 19,490 rabid, towel-waving Blues maniacs ready to blast out of their seats in anticipation of something -- anything -- to happen for the Blues, a pair of goals within a 45-second span sent Scottrade Center into bedlam. And when the final horn sounded signifying the Blues' first playoff series win since downing Chicago in five games in 2002, it marked a return to a familiar spot in playoff seasons past, ones in which the Blues were common entries in the quest for Lord Stanley's Cup.

Saturday's 3-1 win signifies more than just a win. It was the final call that Blues hockey was finally back.

"You can see the excitement," said veteran Jamie Langenbrunner, whose third-period goal tied the game and set the wheels in motion for the comeback. "I watched my kids' hockey game get cancelled tonight because we're playing. It's good to see, but this team isn't focused on making the playoffs or winning the first round. We have bigger goals and we're excited to win that first round, we're excited about every goal we've accomplished so far, but we've got a few more left."

That's why the mood in the locker room afterwards for many of the players experiencing their first playoff series win as one of excitement but there was also a sense of calmness that everyone involved understands that this is only the first of four legs.

"I think you saw it in the locker room," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "There was elation and then calmness. And that's the same way we are after every win. I don't know why ... that's a pretty high level of maturity to get to that. Even as you're getting those guys in the locker room, there's a real calmness about our group. They've come down from the high real quick. They were real grounded when they were getting dressed and getting ready.

"It's good. I think we're going to play well the next series."

But to celebrate was only natural last night for the Blues, as they have only tasted playoff hockey twice since the lockout of 2004-05.

"Yeah, it's exciting," said defenseman Barret Jackman, who began his Blues career in 2002. "Just the atmosphere in the building, there's nothing like playoff hockey. It's been a while since we've had success in the playoffs. It tingles through the body when the final buzzer went."

This was good for the city and its fans for more reasons than one. With the recent success of the Cardinals and lackthereof from the Rams, St. Louis has been in dire need of a new adventure to embrace. The resurgence of the Blues was pretty evident from the get-go. And the city began fully embracing the playoff fever immediately.
(Getty Images)
The Blues salute to the fans following Saturday's 3-1 win over San Jose
which clinched the best-of-seven series 4-1.

"You could see it when they were painting the Bluenotes on the streets," Elliott said. "When I was leaving the rink one day, I was like, "This is pretty special." To be part of this organization and the town and community, it's something to be proud of and special. You can see why alumni stick around."

To Hitchcock, he's fully engulfed in the reason he was brought here: to get the hockey franchise pointed in the right direction, and ultimately, win the Stanley Cup.

"No. I told people before, this feels normal to me," Hitchcock said. "Having been in Dallas and Philadelphia, I was a little rusty when I first got going here. But this feels normal to me right now to be honest with you.

"It feels like ... this is why they brought me in for this time of year."

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