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Brouwer boosts Blues by Blackhawks

Forward scores with 11:29 remaining in Game 7, lifts St. Louis into second round

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- The play started just past the blue line, with Erik Gustafsson upended by Robby Fabbri. It progressed from there: a puck lost, a puck gained, a puck sent into the offensive zone, to Paul Stastny, to Fabbri, to Troy Brouwer, off the right post, whiffed at, and somehow found and buried.

They didn't know, then, that the awkward, ankle-breaking, off-balance shot would be the difference. There was 11:29 remaining in the third period of a Western Conference First Round series that had turned on a hair, and in which the Chicago Blackhawks had repeatedly refused to fall.

But no one else would score -- though the Blackhawks came within a post-to-post sequence with fewer than four minutes remaining of tying the game -- as the St. Louis Blues conquered both their demons and Chicago on their way to a spot in the second round for the first time since 2012.

"That was the ugliest goal I've ever scored," Brouwer said. "Probably the most timely goal I've ever scored."

Video: CHI@STL, Gm7: Brouwer beats Crawford in the crease

He saw it go off that post, and his only reaction was, as he put it, "Panic. Pure panic."

The bench was trying to help nudge the puck in.

"I've never seen that. That's like mini golf," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, laughing.

Fabbri celebrated, he estimated, three separate times.

"I thought I got it the first time," Brouwer said. "When you're not expecting for it to come back out, I think I even almost tried to kick it at some point too. I got it on the last one, falling down. In that time of the game, you can't afford to miss your opportunities. So I wasn't going to be denied."

He was happy. He was relieved. He joked, after it was all over, that had he not put that one in, he might have quit hockey. Fortunately for the Blues, that wasn't necessary.

This was a spot Brouwer knew. He had been here, over and over again. Seven consecutive Game 7s, as series after series went the distance. His most recent had come last season, as his Washington Capitals went up 3-1 in their second-round series before falling in three straight to the New York Rangers.

Brouwer would not let that happen again.

After the Blues had given up a two-goal lead -- one that had Scottrade Center electric, shaking and shuddering under the weight of years of expectations -- it was Brouwer who spoke up, along with Steve Ott. The rest of this team has a middling amount of experience, many in the 30-game region in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Ott had 50 games before Monday. Brouwer had 84, including those six previous chances at a deciding game.

They talked, telling their teammates to stick with the game plan, to make good things happen. That was what they had intended all along, to stop the Blackhawks from finding their momentum. And then Brouwer went a step further, scoring the game-winner, tallying his first playoff goal after a stretch of 23 straight games without one.

He said it hadn't mattered to him, he hadn't thought much about it, that it was about the team. He knew that a significant part of his assignment, in the game and the series, had been to keep Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Chicago's offensive threats away from the net. He and his line mostly succeeded. That was, in all likelihood, the difference.

Video: CHI@STL, Gm7: Seabrook bangs puck off both posts

Still, he knew his history. He wanted to turn that history.

"Vindication, Troy Brouwer," Blues captain David Backes said. "Getting the game-winner there, battling in front. I think he might have blown that in with his breath if he didn't get it with his backhand there. He's been battling all series, done a heck of a job checking their top players.

"For him to bury that one, good feeling for everyone in here. We couldn't be happier for him."
And for themselves.

This was a city that needed this win, that needed to defeat Chicago and advance, finally, to put away the disappointments. It was something that Brouwer understood.

For him, this was familiar territory. Not just being in the playoffs, in a Game 7, playing high-level hockey. This was against friends and teammates, players with whom he had won the Stanley Cup years earlier.

"Hopefully, we can have a beer and laugh about it in the summer," Brouwer said.

That seems unlikely, at least in the near term. Brouwer will continue playing, perhaps for quite some time. For his former teammates, the loss will remain raw and painful, the whims of hit posts and off-balance ugliness combining to end their season early and send them back home to Chicago.

For Brouwer, it was triumph, in the goal, in the win. And so he goes on, to more games and more series and, likely, another Game 7 or two.

"This is what they got me for," Brouwer said. "Like I said earlier on in the season, my season is going to be judged mainly on down the stretch and what I do in the playoffs here. Hopefully, that [goal] helps my case."

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