ST. LOUIS - When the Blues traded away fan favorite T.J. Oshie for gritty forward Troy Brouwer they wanted his experience in the playoffs and the club saw that gamble pay off as Brouwer batted in the series winning goal Monday night.
It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t perfect. But it was the game winner and it came against the team he won a Stanley Cup with in 2010. It was Brouwer’s first career game winning goal in the postseason.
With their line reunited, Paul Stastny kept the puck in the offensive zone and found Robby Fabbri on the other side of the ice near the goal. Brent Seabrook laid out thinking Fabbri would shot the puck, but the rookie found the veteran on the doorstep and passed the puck.
“I thought I got it the first time. You’re not expecting it to come back out,” said Brouwer who said he was immediately panicked by the play. “I think I even almost tried to kick it at some point. I got it on the last one falling down. In that time of the game you can’t afford to miss your opportunities. I wasn’t going to be denied.”
The goal came with just under 11:30 minutes remaining and the Blues knew the defending champs would not go quietly. Chicago put up a scare with 3:30 minutes left when Seabrook slapped a shot past Brian Elliott, but the puck bounced off both posts before laying in the blue paint. It wasn’t until Alex Pietrangelo came by to fish the puck out that the Blues were out of trouble.
“I heard post-post and I thought just get back as soon as I could,” Pietrangelo said. “Instincts kicked in and just get back as soon as possible and somehow I was able to get behind [Elliott]. Half a second later it’s in our net.”
The Blues continued to survive. The Blackhawks pulled Corey Crawford with 1:47 left and while the Blues were unable to add an empty-netter they did keep Chicago from setting up in the zone. As the clock ticked down to zero, the Blues were on the right side of the first round.
“They play their butts off every shift and never say die,” David Backes said about Chicago. “We needed everything tonight - needed a couple of posts and we'll rub those down on the way out, thank them a couple of times.”
For the first time since 2012 the Blues were able to skate down the handshake line wearing face splitting grins instead of grimaces.
“It’s a good feeling to go through that line and smile for a change rather than the frowns and the sad faces we've had many times in this first round,” Backes added.
It was a tumultuous ride for St. Louis to win the seventh game. The team came out hot in the first scoring a goal in the first minute when Jay Bouwmeester’s shot was deflected by Jori Lehtera. Then later in the period Colton Parayko tallied his second goal of the playoffs with a big booming rocket past Crawford.
But as so often happened in this series Chicago came back hard managing to sneak a goal past Elliott with a minute and a half remaining in the first. Then in the second period, where Chicago had previously outscored St. Louis 10-3, the Blackhawks put in a power play goal to tie the game. Unlike their performance in Game 6, the Blues were able to survive the blitzkrieg in the period and keep the game tied heading into the third.
“You'd like to not give them any life the last two minutes of the period but it was a heck of a shot then they get the power play goal,” the Blues captain described. “We learned in Game 6 a quick lesson that we needed to up our game and get back in the offensive zone. And we're able to do that a lot quicker than Game 6 and regain that pressure that we had earlier in the game.”
The Blues won a Game 7 for the first time in Scottrade Center history and their first Game 7 win since May 4, 1999 against the then Phoenix Coyotes.
Now the team has a date on the road to take on the Stars. No schedule has been released as Anaheim and Nashville still have to finish their series. Throughout the season the St. Louis was 4-1 against Dallas with two of those victories coming in overtime and one in the shootout.
“We have an opportunity in front of us,” said head coach Ken Hitchcock. “Everyone in that room knows it’s going to get harder. It’s the emotional knowledge of how deep you have to dig. We found that in this series and I want us to use it now. It’s easy to talk about. It’s easy to discuss but it’s hard unless you go through it. This time we pushed through and it’s a good sign.”