The St. Louis Blues are a long way from winning the Stanley Cup, but it can’t be understated just how big the 3-2 victory in Monday’s Game 7 was.
The mantra in St. Louis for the better part of the week, and maybe for the duration of the first-round series, was that this time things were going to be different. This time the Blues weren’t going to fall apart, they were going to close out a series and finally advance after three consecutive first-round exits. But a loss in Game 6 saw doubt creep in for the Blues, if not from the players then from those who’ve watched this team fail to get the job done in Round One for the past three campaigns.
However, following Game 6’s second period collapse, the Blues entered Game 7 with the same emotion they displayed in the first frame of Saturday’s game. The difference-maker was that this time the Blues didn’t fall apart at the seams. No doubt there was a scare — an early 2-0 lead was squashed by the rival Chicago Blackhawks — but with the game tied, the Blues didn't blow coverages, they didn't let a weak goal turn the tide and they didn't give the Blackhawks one single Grade 'A' scoring chance. That all led to St. Louis’ Troy Brouwer scoring midway through the final period, and that marker stood as the goal that sent the Blues to the second round.
Of course, even the Blues’ late one-goal lead wasn’t entirely safe as Brent Seabrook blasted a shot from the blueline that walked the goal line and hit off of both posts, but that was all but forgotten as the final buzzer went. All that matters to the fans in St. Louis, and to a Blues organization that sorely needed this victory, is that they held on and are advancing to the second round of the post-season after three straight seasons of first-round heartbreak.
It’s fitting this Blues group is the one to move on, too, given the injury issues the team overcame in the regular season that likely would have crushed previous iterations of this squad. It wasn’t until the first game of the post-season that St. Louis found themselves with a full, healthy roster, yet somehow the Blues managed to not only succeed in the regular season but earn home ice advantage in the first round while challenging for the Central Division title.
If the Blues were going to go anywhere in this post-season, if they were going to accomplish anything, it had to start with St. Louis overcoming a hurdle to prove to themselves and their doubters their ability to get the job done. That their proof came at the expense of a foe as detested as the Blackhawks is only a bonus. It feels as though the Blues’ Game 7 victory could have been a catalyst for this team. Maybe it’s not all talk and this year really is different, because after Game 7, St. Louis looks like a group that is truly ready to take the next step.
That’s not to say St. Louis is without faults, and there are issues that need to be addressed if the Blues want to continue its march towards the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. The deployment and usage of star winger Vladimir Tarasenko was a major talking point throughout the first round, and a scene between coach Ken Hitchcock and the Russian winger put the spotlight squarely on the situation in Game 7. There’s also the matter of St. Louis’ inability to defend leads — the Blues blew two-goal cushions in Games 6 and 7 — and Hitchcock and Co. will need to address that issue before facing a Dallas Stars offense that can seemingly score at will. But at least for one night, the city of St. Louis will celebrate their Blues, who have finally overcome their first-round woes to move on to Round Two.