Elliott, Pietrangelo, rookies key to Blues breakthrough
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Looking for reasons why the St. Louis Blues were able to break through and win a playoff series for the first time since 2012, it's easy to start at goaltender.
Brian Elliott was among the NHL's best in the regular season, and though the Blues have a second starting-caliber goalie in Jake Allen, he never gave coach Ken Hitchcock a reason to even consider a change during the first-round triumph over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Elliott set the tone with a shutout in overtime in Game 1 and was on top of his game throughout. Now the 31-year-old, passed over in previous playoffs in favor of Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller and Allen has his first series win.
''I think you soak it in through osmosis,'' Elliott said Wednesday. ''It's not the kind of stuff you can write down, it's those feelings, it's those rising to the occasions.''
But he's far from the only reason the Blues are the toast of the town.
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo set the tone on the back line and often led the rush, too, playing a complete game. He had a goal and five assists, a plus-2 rating and averaged 30 minutes and 43 seconds of ice time, among the highest in the league.
''You realize the level you need to be at to have success,'' Pietrangelo said. ''I think you look at guys who have been here through the failures in the past, we didn't want to go through that again.''
A pair of rookies, strapping defenseman Colton Parayko and speedy Robby Fabbri, proved playoff-ready, too. Parayko scored his second goal of the series in Game 7 and Fabbri's pass set up the series-deciding goal by Troy Brouwer.
''At the beginning of the year I definitely didn't envision playing in Game 7 and scoring,'' Parayko said. ''So, that's a pretty cool moment and it's exciting.''
Fabbri had a goal and four assists and Hitchcock wasn't afraid to use him in any situation.
Hitchcock, who is fourth on the career regular-season wins list, said over the years the learning curve has gotten much shorter for young players. Parayko described this season as a ''whirlwind,'' but seemed pretty calm keeping the puck safe.
''I'm shocked and surprised at it, but every team seems to have it,'' Hitchcock said. ''They'll be just as good or better in the next series because there's no fear in young players anymore.''
The Blues were still basking in the afterglow a bit two days after ending a frustrating three-year stretch of top-shelf regular seasons followed by first-round exits. After discussing practice plans heading into the second round against the Stars that starts Friday in Dallas, Hitchcock gave the team a second day off to heal from a bruising series.
Hitchcock said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told him to ''go win a Cup.''
''When you beat a champion out, you've earned the right to try and go for it,'' Hitchcock said. ''We're down to eight teams after tonight, nothing but tough games.''
Former Blues mainstay T.J. Oshie, now playing for the top overall seed Washington Capitals after an offseason deal for Brouwer, also relayed congratulations. Oshie said Game 7 might have been the first time he watched an NHL game on TV from start to finish.
''Extremely happy for them,'' Oshie said. ''It's been frustrating, I know, for them. It was for me when we were there, when we felt like we put in so much effort and didn't get much out of it.''
Now, Hitchcock faces the team he won a Stanley Cup for in 1999, and match wits with Lindy Ruff on the opposite bench. They've coached together on two Olympic teams for Canada.
''We became good friends,'' Hitchcock said. ''Being roommates with a guy for two and a half weeks, you get to know a lot about a guy.''
AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.