(HOCKEYStL) - It was nearly a devastating outcome for the Blues in Tuesday night’s playoff opener against the Los Angeles Kings.
When the Kings evened the score with just 31.6 seconds remaining in the game, it was hard not to flash back to last year’s playoff opener against the San Jose Sharks where the Blues had the better of the play, yet lost the lead late and it cost them. However, the outcome was different on Tuesday, and it’s a good thing for the Blues, because a loss would have devastated a group of players whose confidence would have been hanging in the balance.
Alex Steen carried the team on his back by scoring two goals, including the shorthanded winner at the 13:26 mark of overtime.
"Hockey gods took care of us, they did," said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. "We played a great hockey game. Waking up tomorrow would have been a challenge if we didn’t win the hockey game. We’re hopefully going to gain a lot of confidence from this that we can compete with these guys and not just compete but actually win.”
It was a start to what looks to be a grueling series, with a combined 79 hits.
Had the Blues not been able to obtain the win on Tuesday, their psyche would have taken a massive hit. The Blues outplayed the Kings for the better part of 70 minutes. They had more scoring chances, harder hits, and the majority of their puck-possession time was spent on a relentless attack.
"I think that it would have been a shame not to win," Hitchcock admitted. "But when you’re the defending champion, you can’t just knock them off, you’re going to have to stick a pretty big nail in them, and we’re just getting started in this series."
The Blues saw the Kings push back late in the game, as Justin Williams tied the game with under a minute remaining. The Blues remained intact but were on their heels at the start of overtime. It was the first time in the game that the Blues were being heavily outplayed.
Both goaltenders were very strong between the pipes. Brian Elliott stopped 28 of 29 Kings’ shots and Jonathan Quick was as solid as ever in goal. Fortunately for the Blues, Quick made a rare mistake in overtime as he mishandled the puck behind the net allowing Alex Steen to capitalize and score the game winning goal.
Even though it was only Game One, it was was as important as any. Hitchcock said the team hopes to build off the effort for Game Two.
“From our standpoint, we needed to talk about something other than coming close," said Hitchcock. "We needed to start talking about here’s how you win. You can only go to that well so many times where the players stop believing you. We gave a big push today and got rewarded for it. So we’ve got something to draw on now. We’ve got something to sell (to the players on Wednesday) morning and hopefully we come back with a similar effort."