ST. LOUIS -- As the St. Louis Blues went through the procession of handshakes signaling the end of their grueling Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, they finally got a taste of what it felt like to be on the other side of it.
The past four seasons, the Blues felt the agony of defeat after tough and rugged Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings (2012, 2013), the Blackhawks (2014) and the Minnesota Wild (2015). St. Louis had one playoff series win under coach Ken Hitchcock coming into the 2015-16 season; they defeated the San Jose Sharks in five games in the first round in 2012.
The Blues topped 100 points in each of the past four full 82-game seasons under Hitchcock but couldn't get it done in the postseason. They carried with them the label of "great regular-season team that can't get it done in the playoffs."
The proverbial monkey is finally off the Blues' backs. A 3-2 victory against the Blackhawks in Game 7 on Monday allowed them to finally exhale.
Video: CHI@STL, Gm7: Blues defeat Blackhawks to advance
"It's great; it's been a few years," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who the Blues selected with the fourth pick in the 2008 NHL Draft. "What is it, four years now since we had that? We poured a lot of effort, a lot of guys poured a lot of effort to get to this point this year. We knew home-ice advantage was important for us. It's going to come in handy at some point.
"A few of us have been here for a while. We've seen a lot of things over the last five or six years. We feel real good. We've grown together into this organization. It's a step in the right direction."
The series between the Blues and Blackhawks was very tense. Six of the seven games were decided by one goal, and the games were tied or had the trailing team within one goal for 91.3 percent of the total playing time (412:48 of 452:11). It was another first-round test for the Blues, one they finally passed.
"I don't know if it's a milestone; it's a hump," said Hitchcock, who is 14-20 with the Blues in the playoffs. "We have knowledge now and we've got to use it. Everybody in that room knows it's going to get harder."
There were 19,935 packed to the rafters of Scottrade Center on Monday, the same fans who have witnessed much heartbreak the past four years.
The Blues were ready to reward those who stayed loyal to them through thick and thin.
"We talked about before the game (how) we were looking to write a new chapter," said captain David Backes, who the Blues picked in the second round (No. 62) of the 2003 NHL Draft. "... We got over that first hurdle against one heck of a team over on the other side. They're three-time champions over the last six years for a reason.
"As good as it gets would be June to have this conversation, but this is a big check mark on our to-do list on the way there."