CHICAGO -- The St. Louis Blues could have retreated, tucked back into themselves. The adversity had seemed to be coming in waves: the two coach's challenge calls on Friday, the 3-2 loss, three nearly consecutive penalties in the first six minutes of Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks, the power-play goal against on the first shot of the game. It would have been easy to fold.
"They score on the power play and that's sub-optimal. Then they get two more calls and by the third one, I think it was looking at each other and saying, 'It's us against the world,'" Blues captain David Backes said.
"Killing those [penalties], it expended a lot of energy out of a few of us, but in the end it gave us a jolt and we were able to find our game after that, especially in the third period and that's when it counts."
Having gone down 2:18 into the first period on Brent Seabrook's power-play goal, the Blues came back to tie the score in the first period. They came back again in the third, with two more goals, after the Blackhawks had scored early in the second, and after Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford had stymied the Blues on some stellar chances, including one at 5:30 by Jori Lehtera from Patrik Berglund.
Video: STL@CHI, Gm3: Elliott withstands pressure in front
And so they came out of Game 3 with a 3-2 win, putting them up 2-1 in their best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series, giving them back home-ice advantage.
It was a sign: This is not the same team as two years ago, when the Blues took the first two games at home before dropping four straight to the Blackhawks in the first round. This is not a team that will be thrown off-balance by a call or a loss or anything, really. That does not mean that the Blues will necessarily win. It does mean that there has been a hardening, a maturing, a changing of a team that has failed to get out of the first round over the past three seasons.
As Crawford said, "Whatever happens in the season, whatever's happened in years before, they're not the same team."
That is evident from outside the organization. It is even more evident inside.
"One hundred percent," Backes said, when asked about the response from this team compared to the one that lost two seasons ago. "Just the calm, even-keel manner, the belief that what we do works and if we stay at it, it's going to pay off in the long run. Other times, that first period would have had us frayed in all different sorts of directions. Instead, we were together and the result was positive, obviously."
Video: STL@CHI, Gm3: Seabrook opens scoring with slap shot
The result was a win, a lead in the series, the knowledge that the Blues are now one game closer to exorcising the demons of recent years.
It helped that, in Game 3, the Blues were the ones getting the bounces. After Artem Anisimov gave the Blackhawks the lead at 1:04 of the second period after Artemi Panarin out-battled Colton Parayko for a puck along the boards, the Blues went into the third period down.
That should have meant a loss. After all, the Blackhawks came into Game 3 with a record of 71-0-5 when leading after two periods in the regular season and playoffs since May 21, 2014, including a 37-0-4 record this season.
But the Blues got a bounce when Berglund's long-distance shot ticked off the leg of Michal Rozsival on its way past Crawford at 5:15 of the third. And then Patrick Kane was called for a double minor for high-sticking, having drawn blood near the eye of Alex Pietrangelo.
Video: STL@CHI, Gm3: Anisimov scores off Panarin's feed
The Blues took their chance, with Backes sending the puck to Jaden Schwartz for the power-play game-winner at 13:22 of the third period.
It was a different team forcing a different outcome in a situation that, perhaps, would not have gone its way in years past. But this team has come together, weathered the losses of player after player this season, and has come into the playoffs healthier, both mentally and physically.
"Some of it's the adversity we faced all year," Backes said. "But some of it's straight, hard lessons of being out in the first round and having that dissatisfied feeling and looking back and, like I said in training camp, we did a lot of reflecting and analyzing of what happened to us that we didn't have success in the first round last year and the year before.
"Those meetings aren't easy or fun to have, but we found that our nucleus is so strong together that everyone else just pulls right along. … That nucleus is strong and we're sticking together."
Sunday, it produced a win and a series lead. Now, the next step comes. Two more wins are needed for the Blues to cement a spot in the second round, and to show that this team really is as different as Crawford, and the Blues themselves, believe.