Buckle Up for Blues-Blackhawks: St. Louis Draws First Blood in Epic 3OT Win

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2014

Jeff Roberson/AP Images

This series is going to be epic.

It’s a shame it had to happen so early.

In the old playoff format, the St. Louis Blues would have been the third seed in the Western Conference with 111 points and the tiebreaker against the San Jose Sharks. The Chicago Blackhawks would have been fifth. If the top teams avoided upset, it would have been unlikely that the defending Stanley Cup champions and stacked Blues would see each other until the conference final.

Instead, they’re going to pound on each other over four, five or six more games for the honor of moving on to the second round with either the Colorado Avalanche or Minnesota Wild on deck.

Talk about anti-climactic.

So enjoy the ride while it lasts. Absorb every minute of this first-round series between two of the best teams in the NHL. And buckle up—it’s going to be a long haul.

According to the CBC broadcasters, the 4-3 triple-overtime victory was the longest playoff game in St. Louis Blues history.

It might have felt longer to the Blackhawks.

Captain Jonathan Toews expressed the disappointment of losing after pouring so much into that first meeting while talking with the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc: "It's not fun to lose those ones. When you go the length of a game like that you want to find a way to win. It's disappointing but it's a long series."

It sure looks that way.

The Blues came out on top of it to take a critical lead in the best-of-seven series thanks in large part to one of their newest soldiers.

Goaltender Ryan Miller was brought in before the trade deadline to strengthen the Blues’ last line of defense. They parted ways with Jaroslav Halak in the hopes that after two straight losses to the Los Angeles Kings early in the postseason, a marquee name like Miller would give them that edge to make a deep playoff run.

Things didn’t look good after the first period.

Miller gave up three goals on seven shots, and the Blues gave up a 1-0 lead to find themselves trailing 3-2, with recently healed Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews teaming up on the go-ahead goal that saw Miller completely freeze on the shot and the Twitter critics ready to pounce.

Ryan Miller channeling his inner Andre Racicot.

— Dan Tencer (@dantencer) April 18, 2014

Somewhere in the suburbs of St.Louis, Jaro Halak has a very wry smile on his face, as Ryan Miller allows 3 goals on 7 shots.

— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) April 18, 2014

The last laugh was Miller’s. He didn’t allow another goal all night.

Jaden Schwartz rewarded his calm performance with a backhand that beat Corey Crawford to tie the game with a minute and 45 seconds remaining on the clock.

That forced them to play another 42 minutes, racking up 94 shots in the process.

Miller faced 10 fewer than Crawford, but showed his mental toughness after that rocky start. 

Jeff Roberson

For the nearly 40 minutes of goal-less action before Alex Steen scored the winner 26 seconds into the third overtime period, the teams physically abused each other. Those returning from injuries were hacked, jabbed, poked, pushed, prodded and rubbed at every opportunity. For that matter, so were the healthy players.

The Blackhawks—welcoming Toews and Kane back after lengthy layoffs—absorbed 42 hits.

The Blues—who got David Backes and Vladimir Tarasenko into the lineup—took 27.

Among the more significant bruisings were Toews leaving the ice looking uncomfortable more than once, and Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester going missing late in the first overtime only to return for the opening seconds of the final frame.

Those who are still on the injured list will be welcomed back to a bloodbath.

Toews suggests things could get even more physical in the rematch Saturday afternoon.

#Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews on Blues' physicality: "It’s what we expected. I think we can work on returning the favor a little bit."

— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) April 18, 2014

Normally, the team destined to come out of a matchup like this, with each capable of winning a Stanley Cup based on their play in the regular season, would be favored in the next round.

But either of these clubs might not have a leg to stand on if Game 1 is any indication of how things are going to go.