Troy Brouwer picked exactly the right time to end a 23-game playoff scoring drought.
Brouwer’s first playoff goal since 2013 sent the St. Louis Blues flying into the second round as he scored in the third period Monday for a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of their first-round series.
The Blues will face the Dallas Stars in a second-round series that will begin later this week — and Brouwer helped them get there.
Brouwer burned his former team at the 8:31 mark of the third period while playing in his seventh career Game 7. He got the puck in front from Robby Fabbri, then put the initial shot off the goalpost before scrambling to keep his feet and then guiding a backhander into the net for his first goal of the series.
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“That was the ugliest goal I’ve ever scored — and probably the most timely goal I’ve ever scored,” Brouwer said. “I was joking with Panger (Blues broadcaster Darren Pang) that if I didn’t put that one in I might quit hockey. I just tried to stay with it; knowing the magnitude of the game, knowing how everything’s been going ... we’ve been having great opportunities but hadn’t been able to put them in.”
It was Brouwer’s first goal in 24 playoff games. His last playoff goal was on May 8, 2013, while playing for Washington against the New York Rangers and this one electrified a standing-room only crowd of 19,935.
Brouwer’s goal didn’t just win a series, it lifted the spirits of a franchise that had lost three straight playoff series in the opening round.
“It means a lot to me,” Brouwer said. “It means a lot to the team and the franchise. We’ve had a long, tough season and to see us get rewarded like this, especially against a division rival like the ‘Hawks in such dramatic fashion, its’ all smiles around here right now.”
That included the streets around Scottrade Center and anywhere else Blues fans could be found.
There were more than a few anxious moments on the bench as the Blues and coach Ken Hitchcock watched Brouwer trying to finish the play with the series on the line.
“I think he would have blown that in with his breath if he didn’t get it with his backhander,” joked Blues captain David Backes.
“I’ve never seen a whole bench try and push it in there,” Hitchcock said. “That’s like mini-golf trying to put it in there. God, was it an anxious moment on the bench. Then, to see it, it almost looked like he kicked it. I would’ve had a heart attack on the bench right there.
“He was calm in critical moments. That helps us a lot.”
Chicago nearly tied it with just under four minutes remaining when a shot by defenseman Brent Seabrook hit not only one, but both goalposts. The red goal light behind the net even went on, but the closest referee to the play immediate waved off the goal.
The loose puck was behind Blues goalie Brian Elliott before being swept out of danger by Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, but the nearest referee waved it off immediately.
“We had a sniff there,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t get the positive feedback from the headset. It was close.”
Elliott came up big time and time again, turning aside 31 of 33 shots.
The Blues’ last Game 7 win was in the 1999 Western Conference quarterfinals when their coach was current Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. Monday also marked the second Game 7 in the playoffs between the Blues and Blackhawks and the first one in St. Louis.
It was the longtime rivals’ first Game 7 meeting since the 1990 Norris Division finals, a game the Blackhawks won 8-2 in Chicago.
It was a nearly perfect first period for the Blues until the Blackhawks took advantage of a bizarre turnover that led to a goal for Marian Hossa.
Jori Lehtera put the Blues on top 1-0 just one minute into the game when he deflected in a shot from the left point by defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. It was Lehtera’s first goal of the playoffs and it seemed to ignite even more energy from the home team.
Blues rookie defenseman Colton Parayko pushed the lead to 2-0 when he blasted a one-timer from the blue line past Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford at the 13:43 mark. Parayko put everything he had into the shot, which whizzed past Crawford for the rookie’s second goal of the series.
“Everyone is telling me to shoot, so I let it go,” Parayko said. “Good things happen when you shoot the puck, I guess. (The) equipment guy challenged me to (get) eight shots tonight. Didn’t quite get there. Anything I can do to help contribute to make our team win is something I’m going to do every night.”
Brouwer limped off the ice earlier in the first period after blocking a shot by Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith. Brouwer walked down the runway toward the dressing room, but returned to the ice before the period ended.
The Blues had possession in the Chicago zone when Lehtera tried to feed Jaden Schwartz with a pass at the exact time that Schwartz lost his footing and fell to the ice. The Blackhawks quickly pounced on the turnover and headed to the other end, where Hossa sent a high shot past Blues goaltender Brian Elliott with 1:30 remaining in the period for his third goal of the series.
Some great early shifts by the Blues’ fourth line helped create a lot of momentum as Scottie Upshall led the way with four first-period hits.
Hossa’s late goal in the first period set the tone for yet another strong period by the Blackhawks.
They tied it 2-2 on a bizarre power-play goal by Andrew Shaw 3 minutes, 20 seconds into the period.
Shaw was at the side of the net trying to execute a cross-ice pass when the puck hit the leg of crouching Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and deflected underneath Elliott. It was Shaw’s team-leading fourth goal of the series, giving Chicago an 11-3 scoring edge in the second period of the seven games.
Crawford was the only reason the game remained tied throughout the second period.
He made an acrobatic save with his blocker to rob Fabbri, then got a break when the puck came to Pietrangelo and his shot at the open net sailed wide.
Crawford flashed his glove twice to take potential goals away later in the period, using it to rob Schwartz and later Vladimir Tarasenko.
Following the win, one of the happiest Blues was Bouwmeester. It was his first playoff series win in 13 NHL seasons.
“Probably from the first game you could have said it was going to go seven,” Bouwmeester said. “Maybe even overtime. This is my 13th, 14th year, and I finally win a playoff round. First Game 7, first time I win.”