ST. LOUIS — Buckle up, Blackhawks fans, this has the makings of some kind of thrill ride.
Trailing the defending Stanley Cup champions late in regulation, the Blues rallied for a 4-3 victory in triple-overtime in Game 1 of the first round of the NHL playoffs Thursday night at Scottrade Center.
The Hawks were within 1 minute, 45 seconds of seizing home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series when Jaden Schwartz scored to tie it up and Alexander Steen eventually notched the game-winner 26 seconds into the third extra period as the Blues snapped a six-game losing skid that ended their regular season.
In a game that pretty much had everything from highlight-reel goals to crunching hits to acrobatic saves, the Blues drew first blood — literally — in the series that will continue Saturday with Game 2 in St. Louis.
"It's not fun to lose those ones," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said afterward, blood flowing from above his right eye. "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."
Adam Cracknell and Vladimir Tarasenko also scored for the Blues while goaltender Ryan Miller out-dueled Corey Crawford to earn the victory.
Brent Seabrook had a goal and an assist, Patrick Kane and Johnny Oduya scored and Toews added two assists for the Hawks but it wasn't enough.
"It was definitely a tough loss," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had a couple of opportunities, really good looks and it's obviously disappointing at the end of the game.
"We have to find a way to win a game in here. It's going to be exciting about the opportunity that's in front of us, knowing we have to keep getting better every game."
It was a breakneck pace from opening puck drop and the crowd of 19,423 roared with every check and missed opportunity. The Blues stayed true to form and hit everything that moved to control the pace early on.
Cracknell opened the scoring when he banged in a rebound of a Chris Porter shot. Oduya answered when the defenseman controlled the puck, took advantage of open ice to move into the left circle and ripped a shot that Miller got a piece of but watched as it trickled across the line.
The Hawks cashed in on a power play a short time later when Kris Versteeg showed great patience with the puck as he skated behind the Hawks net with his head up. The winger eventually found Seabrook pinching in and fed the defenseman with a pass that Seabrook fired past Miller with a one-timer.
The Blues tied it 2-2 on Tarasenko's score from the slot and then Kane and Toews worked magic to swing the momentum toward the Hawks.
Kane made his way behind the Blues defense and Toews hit him with a stretch pass that sent Kane in on Miller on a breakaway. The veteran goalie never moved as Kane rifled a shot through his pads.
The second period was quite a bit more low-key as neither team scored. The Hawks' defense was particularly stingy as it held the Blues to just three shots on goal. Two of them, however, were excellent scoring chances but Crawford came up big with stops on Tarasenko and Steve Ott, respectively.
The Hawks were closing in on the victory when Schwartz chipped in a backhander in the waning minutes.
The overtimes were a roller-coaster ride, including when Versteeg beat Miller with a shot but Blues teammate Maxim Lapierre made the save while down in the crease. In the second OT, Miller stoned Patrick Sharp on a breakaway.
"I think we needed it to show that stretch we had to finish the season is behind us," Miller said. "But we have to understand they're a very talented team. It took us a hard-fought game to squeeze out a victory. They have a ton of talent and they have the experience of winning."
Twice during the overtimes Toews was doubled-over in pain on the bench after hits, and once had to have blood flowing from his nose stopped after a check from the Blues' Ryan Reaves.
Steen ended it when he flipped in a shot from in close to end the longest game in Blues history.
"Every game is like that with Chicago and us," Steen said. "We said it before the series started: This is going to be a heck of a series."
Said Toews: "It was a tough game and I think we were good at not giving up too many chances. But when we did, they were pretty high-quality chances and obviously that ended up hurting us.
"It was one of those first games that could go either way. We'll find a way to put it behind us and we'll be even better in the next game."
Toews said the Blues' physical play, which included big hits along the boards and some chippiness after whistles was not a surprise.
"It's what we expected," Toews said. "We can work on returning the favor a little bit. But for the most part, we did a good job of staying away from stuff after the whistle and found a way to draw penalties. We just have to try and find a way to take advantage of the power plays."
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