Blues survive late knockdown to win thrilling OT fight
MAY 01, 2013 6:28a ET
"Waking up tomorrow would have been a challenge if we didn't win the hockey game," the coach of the St. Louis Blues said Tuesday night.
He had just watched his team rise, fall and rise again against the Los Angeles Kings in the first game of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The Blues had dominated their biggest bullies for three periods before Kings right wing Justin Williams scored with 31.6 seconds left in regulation, erasing an entire body of work with a flick of his wrist. Hitchcock's team answered in overtime, claiming a 2-1 win and 1-0 lead in the series when center Alexander Steen took advantage of a costly turnover by Kings' goalie Jonathan Quick.
"I think I just got fortunate behind the net," Steen said.
Call it fortune, intervention from hockey's higher powers, or whatever else fits. But don't forget to call it a must-win that the Blues won, because that's exactly what it was.
"You hate to say things are must-wins, but for us, we are hopefully going to gain a lot of confidence from this, that we can compete with these guys," Hitchcock said. "And not just compete, but actually win. I think it would have been a shame not to win."
It would have been worse than that.
The Blues had lost eight consecutive games to the Kings since their last win on February 3, 2012. Another defeat would have created a dark cloud over this series, a grim foreshadowing that said this could very easily end up like last year, when St. Louis got steamrolled in the second round of the playoffs by a Kings team that didn't stop until it hoisted the Stanley Cup.
Tuesday could have been the most-recent reminder that the Kings can't be touched. And it would have been painful, because the Blues would have come within half a minute of victory before the big, bad Kings stormed back and spoiled everything.
"That we stole one," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said when asked what winning the game would have meant to his team.
For the Blues, it meant more.
"We needed to talk about something other than coming close," Hitchcock said. "We needed to start talking about, 'Here is how you win'. You can only go to that well so many times before the players stop believing … So, we've got some new experience to draw on."
Tuesday was a breakthrough that will affect the rest of this series. It guaranteed that the thousands who will crowd into the Scottrade Center and wave yellow towels like mad do so not in vain, but with the confidence their Blues really can dethrone the Kings.
And while St. Louis players will be more guarded about their feelings than their coach is about his own, any lingering doubts are now cleared from the locker room.
"Just to get that win, it is a nice little monkey off of our back," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think we've known all along. Over the course of a year, we've played them better and better. Finally, here, to be able to piece 60 minutes together and a couple minutes of overtime, it's huge."
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