St. Louis draws first blood on Chicago in historic franchise game

ST LOUIS, Mo – Leading up to the first game of the St. Louis-Chicago opening round series, it was clear the matcStanley Cup 2014 Playoffsh-up would be an epic battle. Little did anyone know this first game would end up being the longest in St. Louis Blues history. And thanks to some aggressive play just after the puck dropped to start the third overtime, this game will also be known as the victory which took the longest for the St. Louis Blues to secure.

On the strength of goaltender Ryan Miller’s last 35 saves in just over 82 minutes of shutout hockey and the timely scoring of Alex Steen just 26 seconds into the third extra frame, the injury-riddled St. Louis Blues defeated the defending Champion Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in Game One of their first round series in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The game-clinching goal came after Blues captain David Backes retrieved a Blackhawks dump-in from his own zone. Backes streaked along the bench-side boards over the center red line. As he crossed into the Chicago zone, he dropped the puck for Steen and then raced toward the net. Steen’s sent a shot on goal that was directed behind the net by Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford.

St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock talks about the strength of Ryan Miller's play against Chicago as the game wore on.

Talks about the strength of Ryan Miller’s play against Chicago as the game wore on.

That’s where Backes was now stationed. He sent a backhand pass to teammate Steve Ott who then continued the play to Steen firing the puck past the Chicago goaltender stick side. With a standing-room only crowd of 19,423, the Scottrade Center erupted with fireworks and a deafening crowd noise. St. Louis had come back from two deficits, the last one coming with just 1:45 left in the third period, to win the game and give the home team a 1-0 series lead.

But the start of the game was not as smooth as the Blues would have liked. Right from the drop of the puck, St. Louis was hemmed in their own zone as Chicago nearly scored on two chances in the first thirty seconds. A Miller miscue on a puck shot through the crease almost spelled disaster, but the Blues survived the scare and advanced the puck up ice.

St. Louis gained strength after settling down and came back with chances led by captain David Backes who tested his injured foot with an early hit on Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. It was a good minute in the zone for St. Louis who kept puting pressure on the Blackhawks. After several good threats, Crawford froze the puck to get a stoppage as St. Louis was close to getting the early lead.

Persistence paid off as the Blues fourth line kept Chicago chasing the puck behind their own goal. Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo’s drive on net was blocked, but squeaked away from Crawford. That’s when Chris Porter pounced on the loose puck and put it home for the game’s first goal. The energy of the Porter-Cracknell-Reaves line was the difference in getting the early edge as Chicago was in chase-mode.

As the pace of the game slowed, Chicago took advantage of the lull to catch the Blues a bit asleep. Beginning with a relentless forecheck, the Blackhawks kept the puck in the St. Louis zone. Johnny Oduya fired a wrist shot toward the Blues goal sending the puck off the underside of Miller’s left pad and into the net for the tying goal. It was the equalizer the Blackhawks needed at a time when St. Louis was gaining strength.

St. Louis pressed quickly to regain the lead at every chance around the Chicago goal. Their forwards pounded Crawford and any likely rebound involved wildly swinging sticks ruffling the head feathers of the Blackhawks.

Chicago kept their cool, though, and went on the power play when Blues defenseman Barrett Jackman was called for interference on Brent Seabrook near the seven-minute mark. The approving roar of the crowd confirmed the presence of fans loyal to the Chicago cause as sections were sprinkled with red jerseys and Blackhawk apparel throughout.

With 17 seconds left in the power play as Blues defensemen watched the play unfold, Kris Versteeg snuck behind the St. Louis goal sending a slick pass to a charging Brent Seabrook who fired it past Miller to give Chicago the 2-1 lead. The relief didn’t last as the Blues answered 29 seconds later.

As St. Louis entered the Chicago zone, Sobotka struggled to reach the puck, but eventually did so while sending a Chicago player sprrawling to the ice. Sobotka sent the puck back to the left point to a waiting Barret Jackman. He continued the play by sending a pass over to the right point where a waiting Kevin Shattenkirk corralled it. Seeing a wide open Vladimir Tarasenko across the ice in the far circle, the Blues defenseman slid a pass to the Russian sniperwho sent a lethal drive past Crawford. The game was tied 2-2 and the home fans erupted again.

More pressure came from St. Louis when Jay Bouwmeester sent a drive that hit the left post. The puck bounced across the crease, but no one could put it home. Tarasenko had another drive that just went wide seconds later. What a difference a third Blues goal would have made.

It was not long after the sequence when Chicago took the lead again and it was the Blackhawk stars who completed a nifty play to make it happen.

With the Blues lazily retreating from the Chicago zone, Jonathan Toews protected the puck on the rush and then found Patrick Kane behind the St Louis defense. Toews sent a laser of a pass splitting the St. Louis defense to a streaking Kane who skated in on goal against Miller. The Blackhawks’ star sent a quick wrist drive through Miller’s legs from 45 feet out, freezing the netminder cold and giving Chicago a 3-2 lead. The goal seemed to break the Blues’ spirit as the opening period neared it’s end.

In the closing seconds, Tarasenko took a hard hit from Andrew Shaw, sending the Blues forward into the boards and appearing to re-injure his right hand. Tarasenko ended up shaking off the effects of the check and continued as the period ended with Chicago ahead 3-2.

While there was an explosion of goals in the opening period, the second period was relatively quiete most of the frame. In the first minute, though, Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester turned the puck over leading to an early Chicago chance. Sharp intercepted the pass and went in on goal with nothing between him and Miller. The St. Louis goalie smothered the drive frustrating the talented winger. The Blackhawks seemed to dominate play getting many chances with Miller keeping them all out of the St. Louis net.

Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville talks about the need for his team to close the book on Game One and get right back at it on Saturday afternoon in Game Two.

Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville talks about the need for his team to close the book on Game One and get right back at it on Saturday afternoon in Game Two.

The Blues’ sluggish opening led to a penalty against defenseman Jordan Leopold for hooking sending Chicago back on the power play. The Blackhawks had an early chance just missing an open net when Brent Seabrook could not convert. While Chicago evened the shot totals on the power play, St. Louis averted damage with strong play from Miller who seemed to gain confidence with each shot.

St. Louis came back with a chance of their own. Vladimir Sobotka sent a drive toward an open goal but Crawford stretched out with his right arm to make the save, freezing the puck for a face-off. It was almost a sure-tying goal, but Chicago held off the St. Louis attack again.

Not long after this play, the Blues earned a man-advantage when Chicago’s Kris Versteeg was called for tripping Steve Ott with just over 8 minutes to go in the second period. Chicago was up to the task as repeated dump-ins by St. Louis resulted in several quick return clears and an offside call. The Blues could not gain man-advantage traction.

Then with just under a minute to go, the Blues had several great chances and sustained pressure. Even as the penalty expired, the continued control against a tired Chicago team on their heels nearly resulted in the tying goal. Finally, Crawford smothered a heavy drive from Schwartz to end the assault as Chicago gained fresh legs. It was the best sustained effort by the Blues of the period.

More pressure came from the Blues as Alex Steen streaked down the left wing and dropped a pass back to a trailing Steve Ott who fired a laser of a drive which Crawford just barely saved and froze for the face-off. St. Louis was now stringing together multiple chances without Chicago threatening the St. Louis goal.

With just more than three minutes to play in the period, the energy line came out to demonstrate just whose barn they were in. Porter and Reaves, this time grouped with Max Lapierre, threw their weight around and it seemed to give St. Louis energy. The Blues needed something in a period which only saw three shots for the home team and it seemed to give the team and the building some jump.

After two periods, though, Chicago not only had the lead in shots 15-14, but the all-important lead in goals 3-2.

As the third period began, right off the draw, Chicago sought to extend their commanding play. The Blackhawks were buzzing, but could not get a good chance on Miller. Forty seconds into the period, it was St. Louis’ turn as defenseman Alex Pietrangelo fired a drive 40 seconds into the period just to the left of the far post St. Louis continued pressure when Steen sent a drive Crawford held onto for the face-off. It was clear the Blues had more jump in their game and entered the period looking for the quick equalizer.

But after while, the Blackhawks peppered Miler with several in-close chances doubling the Blues period shot total a little more than four minutes into the period. Miller remained strong despite a trickling puck which almost found the back of the net. It would have been a backbreaker for the Blues had it gone in.

Just over five minutes into the final period, David Backes was sent off for a high stick on Toews and while Chicago set-up on their deadly power play, St. Louis had the better chances with an odd-man rush off the whistle. Crawford made the save and held it for a face-off, but you could sense the Blues were getting closer to knotting things up.

As the penalty expired, Jaden Schwartz drove to the net and fired a shot off the left post that trickled across the crease and out of harm’s way. It was the third struck post of the night for St. Louis.

Both teams continued with lots of hitting and end-to-end action which was only stifled by a poor tripping call on St. Louis forward Ryan Reaves just over eight minutes into the third. Chicago had pressure, but the man advantage was wiped out on a high stick by Patrick Kane on Barret Jackman. There would be four-on-four hockey for 88 seconds, fitting as the infraction was caused by the Chicago player who wears that number.

St. Louis continued to pressure. Vladimir Sobotka went in all alone on Crawford and hammered the puck into the goalie’s pads, the rebound of which was also stymied by a second left pad save.

More activity from the Blues came when Ryan Reaves intercepted a pass knocking it down with his glove and keeping it in the Chicago zone. Crawford thwarted another attempt and a clear by Chicago was waived off for icing. Back came the Blues when a weak Blues pass intended for Adam Cracknell should have been intercepted. It skipped over the stick of the Chicago defenseman and onto the stick blade of Cracknell. The big forward sent a firm drive toward Crawford hitting him right in the crest where the Chicago goalie held it to force a face-off. The Blues were getting closer to puting one past Crawford.

St. Louis had now gained the edge on shots 10-5 in the period and 24-20 in the game. The attempts kept coming from the home team. David Backes sent a pass to Alex Steen who sent a rocket which Crawford snared with his glove to end the threat. A minute later while streaking down the right side, Tarasenko, the Blues best player of the night, nearly solved Crawford who flashed his trapper to safely catch the puck and set up yet another face-off.

Finally, there was euphoria with 1:45 to play in regulation. That’s when Derek Roy, behind and to Crawford’s right, dug out a puck pushing it toward Jaden Schwartz. The young sniper pulled the puck out of the corner bringing it in front and sending it along the ice and over the line for the tying goal. It was a play which had culminated with several close attempts on the Chicago goal and finally resulting in the tying score.

The St. Louis’ effort was further proven in the shot totals as the Blues now had a 14-8 edge in the third and 28-21 favorable advantage through three periods.

Alexander Steen

Alexander Steen pots winner off bouncing puck in 3rd OT for Blues – image courtesy of NHL

St. Louis, 28-27 all-time in playoff overtime games, took the ice with a renewed energy having evened up their opening match with the defending Champions.

Just over two minutes in, Derek Roy fed Jaden Schwartz who had a golden chance, but put it just wide of the goal. Max Lapierre almost won it thirty seconds later on a drive to the right of the goal. As St. Louis let up, Chicago countered on a play which caught the tired Blues flat-footed. Chicago had the puck in close, but Miller stood tall and smothered the drive.

The teams traded chances through the middle of the period with each goaltender being tested and rising to the occasion. St. Louis’ Miller appeared to get stronger with every shot as the game went on controlling and holding rebounds and moving side-to-side quickly to cover space sought by the Chicago attack.

The Blues had a remarkable chance at 12:34 when Derek Roy had three swipes at the puck just outside the crease with two of them being saved by Crawford. The third trickled to Tarasenko who was tied up with Toews and could not slide it in on the far side.

Seconds later, Vladimir Sobotka was went off for delay of game when his clearing attempt sent the puck over the glass. Chicago went on the power play, but Miller held tight and the Blues defense weathered the danger.

The two teams traded late chances as the period came to a close with Chicago outshooting St. Louis 14-10 in the first overtime, but trailing 38-35 in the game.

The second overtime started with more end-to-end play, each team pushing for the game-winner early. There would be no conservative play.

Just less than three minutes in, Miller stopped a drive with his left shoulder, a product of a 2-on-1 and missed coverage in the neutral zone.

At 5:27, Blues forward Ryan Reaves was called for delay of game for sending the puck over the glass. Chicago went back to work with the man advantage. After the Blues killed the penalty, just more than seven minutes later, it was St. Louis’ turn to have one more player on the ice than Chicago.

A holding penalty to Chicago’s Andrew Shaw gave the Blues that chance with just over seven minutes to go in the second overtime period. The Blues’ best chance came with just under six to play when a frantic swatting of the puck in front of Crawford resulted in nothing despite the wide-open net.

Chicago’s best chance late in the period was a breakaway where Patrick Sharp sprung loose, all alone on Miller. The Blues’ goalie stood his ground tightening his leg pads for the save and prolonging the continued deadlock.http://

The period ended with a 12-7 lead in shots for the Blues who extended their game total lead 50-42.

The third overtime began with Jay Bouwmeester making a return after leaving mid-way through the second overtime due to dehydration, something many of the players were struggling with as the game wore on. Bouwmeester’s return to the ice may have been a good luck charm as it took just 26 ticks of the clock for the Blues to secure the 4-3 victory and 1-0 series lead against the defending Champion Chicago Blackhawks.

Game Two between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks is Saturday afternoon at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Face-off is set for 3:00 PM ET.

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