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Blues use smarts rather than emotion to win Game 2

by Dan Rosen

ST. LOUIS -- They saw their captain down, victimized by a hard, high and illegal hit into the end boards. This was not good, not ever.

The St. Louis Blues' players don't want to trade the skill, size, strength and heart of David Backes for anyone, but they had no choice with 4:51 remaining in regulation of Game 2 on Saturday. Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook delivered the hit that forced both players to leave the game, one by way of injury and the other by way of a major penalty and a game misconduct.

The Blues, now pulsating with emotion, raw and potentially overwhelming, then saw 5:00 go onto the scoreboard clock above center ice, signaling a long power play and a chance at redemption.

The tone of this Western Conference First Round series would hinge on how the Blues handled themselves in this moment at Scottrade Center, with less than five minutes to play and the Blackhawks holding a one-goal lead.

Would the Blues forget about trying to score the game-tying goal and go chasing after revenge? Or would they calm down, use the time smartly, work the puck around and make the Blackhawks pay for Seabrook's untimely charge?

The Blues chose door No. 2. They chose wisely.

Forward Vladimir Tarasenko scored the tying goal with 6.4 seconds remaining in regulation, dropping to his knees and pumping his fists after the puck went into the net. St. Louis then dominated overtime before defenseman Barret Jackman put a seeing-eye slap shot through Chicago goalie Corey Crawford's legs for the winner.

The Blues won 4-3 in overtime for a second straight game to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series, which shifts to Chicago for Game 3 at United Center on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC, RDSI, FS-MW, CSN-CA).

None of this is surprising. At least it shouldn't be.

"I know the stats on who picked [St. Louis to win the series] and who didn't, all that stuff," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "But knowing our real team you'd have given us a chance in this series knowing that if we got a little bit healthy we'd be competitive."

The Blues weren't healthy or competitive down the stretch. They were on their way to winning the Presidents' Trophy and being a popular pick to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Playoffs until the bottom dropped out with six games to play in the regular season.

Injuries to Tarasenko, Backes, Jackman, Alex Pietrangelo, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Alexander Steen and Brenden Morrow sent the Blues off the rails and into a tailspin. They lost their final six regular-season games, fell out of first place in the Central Division and into this first-round series against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

They had 111 points through 76 games, but their doubters were everywhere, even though all but Oshie and Berglund were back for Game 1.

The eight members of and NHL Network tasked with making first-round predictions all had the Blackhawks beating the Blues. It seemed too convenient to ignore St. Louis' first 76 games.

"We heard a lot of bad things after losing six in a row in the regular season," center Maxim Lapierre said.

What they didn't hear was talk about their character, mental toughness, and ability when icing a healthy lineup. Now that's all you're going to hear about the Blues, at least until Game 3 at United Center.

The Blues got healthy and rediscovered how to perform in the clutch.

Jaden Schwartz did it Thursday in Game 1, forcing a turnover with a sneaky check down the wall in the offensive zone and scoring the game-tying goal seconds later, with 1:45 remaining in regulation.

Pietrangelo and Tarasenko combined to do it in Game 2, with time winding down and the Blackhawks seconds away from leaving with what would have been a come-from-behind 3-2 victory on an afternoon when two of Chicago's three goals went into the net off of Blues' forwards.

Pietrangelo got the puck in the right circle, delivered a pass to Tarasenko and the 22-year-old Russian, the player St. Louis missed the most during that injury spell because of his shot and his explosiveness, set himself up on his forehand, aimed low glove and hit his target, the back of the net.

"Some teams are built differently than others," Hitchcock said. "We have role players and it fits, but it started to not fit [at the end of the regular season]. It got a little bit dicey, but I think between the coaches and the players they all deserve a lot of credit for moving the team forward. We washed it clean."

Backes' injury presents yet another dilemma. He is without question St. Louis' leader and arguably its most important player. If he's out for any length of time, the Blues will again be tested and questioned.

Hitchcock also brought up his concern about Sobotka, who had a knee-on-knee collision with Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell 13:55 into the third period but managed to skate away from it and stay in the game.

What if Sobotka wakes up with a swollen knee Sunday? What if he can't play Monday? What if neither Backes nor Sobotka can play? The Blues would be missing their top two centers with only one, Berglund, potentially on the mend.

These are questions that can't be answered until Sunday at the earliest; Monday in reality. The rest of this series may hinge on how the Blues respond, regardless of whether Backes and Sobotka play.

Don't bet on an overreaction.

"We've got guys in this room who can step up," Pietrangelo said.


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