Blues best Blackhawks, eliminate champs in Game 7
(The Sports Xchange) - All that mattered to Troy Brouwer was that the red light went on and the puck went in the net.
"That's the ugliest goal I've ever scored and probably the most timely," said Brouwer, whose goal midway through the third period broke a 2-2 tie and gave the St. Louis Blues a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 on Monday.
The win eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champions in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs.
"It means a lot to me, to the team and to the franchise," Brouwer said. "For a franchise that has had trouble getting out of that first round, it's a confidence booster.
"Sometimes when you are not able to do it, you start doubting yourself, and tonight is a huge encouragement for us."
Brouwer, the only Blues player who has won a Stanley Cup and the only player on the roster who has appeared in more than two Game 7s, was able to find the puck in front of the net after it hit the post.
As he fell, he directed it back into the net at 8:31 of the third period.
"I was joking that if I didn't put that one in, I might quit hockey," Brouwer said.
As the play developed, even those on the bench tried to help Brouwer will the puck into the net.
"The bench was trying to help push it in," St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. "God was it an anxious moment on the bench. Then he almost tried to kick it. We would have had a heart attack."
The goal allowed the Blues to wipe out three years of frustrating losses in the opening round of the playoffs with their first series victory since 2012.
It also was their first Game 7 win since 1999, when current Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was the St. Louis coach, and their first win in Game 7 at home since 1991.
They also avoided blowing the series after taking a 3-1 lead before the Blackhawks won Games 5 and 6 to force the deciding Game 7.
It was Brouwer's eighth career playoff goal but his first in 24 games dating back to 2013, when he was playing for the Washington Capitals.
Only eight players are left on the Blues' roster from the last time the team won a playoff series. St. Louis advances to play the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference semi-finals.
"It was great to have smiles on our faces instead of the frowns we've had so many times going through the line," said one of those eight, captain David Backes.
The Blues built a 2-0 lead on first-period goals from Jori Lehtera and Colton Parayko, only to see the Blackhawks respond.
Chicago got a goal from Marian Hossa, the 52nd of his career in the playoffs, with 1:30 left in the first period, and a power-play goal from Andrew Shaw at 3:20 of the second period.
That was when Brouwer's leadership kicked in.
Acquired from Washington for T.J. Oshie last summer, Brouwer was playing his seventh consecutive playoff series that went to a Game 7.
"I'd like to think (experience) played a pretty good part, not just scoring the goal but making sure on the bench guys were calm and excited at the right times," Brouwer said.
"Getting out to a 2-0 lead, making sure we were not too far ahead of ourselves like we were in Game 6."
The Blackhawks came back from a 3-1 deficit in that game, and as he watched from the bench, Hitchcock knew why Chicago won three of the past six Stanley Cups.
He hopes his team will benefit from going through, and winning, this series.
"It was really eye-opening what a championship team can do like them when they dial it up," Hitchcock said. "You find yourself in awe on the bench seeing what they do.
"We had to find a way to battle through it. We have knowledge now of what it takes, and we have to use it."
It was a disappointing end to the season for the Blackhawks.
"That felt like a conference final," Quenneville said. "That's the division we're in, that's the conference we're in ... the best in the league. It's a tough way to go out."
The Blues held the league's leading point-scorer, Patrick Kane, to only one goal, the double overtime game-winner in Game 5. They also kept Jonathan Toews from scoring a goal during the seven games.
"People were saying this series looked like it was going to come down to one goal at the end, and it did," Toews said. "Just wasn't in our favor."