(DALLAS, TX) This news videographer is probably the last one out of the gate when it comes to online assessment of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 topper over Dallas Wednesday night but perspectives can be brought as one who was actually in the Lone Star State for the finale of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal.
Prior to the drop of the puck, the atmosphere inside American Airlines Center was ripe for a Stars’ win and the return to a place unseen since 2008.
An overflowing crowd of 18,700 waved their rally towels, the pom-shaking cheerleaders were twirling about and the giant Star that the Dallas roster skates through illuminated and smoked as if it was a part of a Vegas-style showcase.
Even taking event production to a bug-nutty extreme, pre-game ice projections replicated what could be best described as “Galaga on Steroids.” Simulating the stand-up video game, a giant Stars logo zapped the respective emblems of the other NHL Western Conference franchises into oblivion and subsequently obliterated the Blues logo into a gazillion pixels.
Donkey Kong is for chumps. THIS is how you present ballyhoo to a rabid fan base!
Texans were amped and they had every right to be. After tying the series at three apiece with Monday’s convincing win over the ‘Note, which sent Blues starting goalie Brian Elliott to the bench early, the Stars were dag-gummed ready to finish this thing in their house and enter the NHL’s final four.
However, it did not take St. Louis long to post the pair of words that concludes every computerized intergalactic battle.
One can flatten the sharpened points of an object by repeatedly hitting them with a blunt object. In the Blues’ case Wednesday, its systematic, hammer-like beat-down of the Stars in Game 7 took roughly 24 minutes.
With the Blues up 3-0 after one period, David Backes’ sixth playoff goal netted at the 3:50 mark stretched the lead to four and, in effect, grounded American Airlines Center. Rally towels had been folded. To their credit, smiling cheerleaders were still playfully bouncing around. No one was buying it.
When Troy Brouwer extended St. Louis’ lead to 5-0 with under five minutes left in the second stanza, one could assume that the Stars’ faithful were muttering to themselves, “I paid this much for THIS?”
By the time Vladimir Tarasenko collected an empty netter deep in the third to make the score 6-1, most locals were well on their way to the exits. Perhaps the most vocal at that moment were the smattering of visiting Blues fans, led by Scottrade Section 314 fixture Towel Man, counting the progression of a half-dozen goals in glee.
The Blues mightily won Game 7, propelled by the fast first-period start, and earned its first Western Conference finals trip since 2001. As the ‘Note exited the ice, there were plenty of smiles and high-fives exchanged backstage followed by reflection on how victory was achieved.
“We wanted to get away right off the bat,” said center Steve Ott in the locker room afterwards, “That’s no secret to our style. We want to be heavy to play against and come out and give our best. Our season hasn’t been pretty, but through all this adversity, it’s really good to see a full game put together like that out there tonight.”
“I thought our preparation all throughout the season has been great,” added Brouwer. “We had a lot of injuries to overcome, but we got stronger as a team as a result from it and coming into the playoffs, we wanted to keep going. We wanted to be one of those teams that finally gets considered as a contender and I feel that we’ve put ourselves in that situation.”
The conference semifinal duke also notched benchmarks for those with lengthy tenures with the franchise that had seen opportunity slip away in prior playoff battles.
“I was the happiest for the guys who were here before I got here,” said coach Ken Hitchcock at his post-game press conference. “Those are the guys that did all the bleeding to get us into a position we’re in now. They were the guys that took their lumps when the team was just trying to rebuild itself.
“Guys like Backes and Berglund and ‘Petro,’ I’m happy for them because they get a chance to strut a little bit and (now) we get a chance to play for a trophy that is very important to get to a bigger trophy that’s even more important.”
Not only was the win important for the skaters but for the franchise as a whole and its perception by the public. If one goes back to the Blues’ absence of activity at the NHL trade deadline, there was a lot of online venom spewed if future success wasn’t achieved. Fire the coach, general manager, Olympia driver, horn operator, section 116 usher and the snack bar vendor pumping out nacho cheese or something to that effect.
Since the February 29 checkpoint, the Blues had a regular season finish of 13-4 and now added two post-season series wins to their tally. I think it’s now safe to assume that everyone’s got job security…even the slinger of cheesy goop.
As KTVI sports anchor/reporter Charlie Marlow and I began our final televised “live shot” from inside American Airlines Center at 11:20 p.m. last night, thus solidifying our position as the “last two media guys” left in the building, I noticed a small green trinket left behind, a blinking Stars plastic wristband. By the time we concluded, perhaps symbolically, the batteries contained inside the accessory slowly fizzled out.
Looking at the future AAC event schedule, singer Rihanna performs tomorrow night, The Cure plays on Sunday and Florence + The Machine continues its tour on Wednesday. That’s all there is on the venue’s docket for the month…because hockey certainly isn’t going to be played here.
Last night marked “game over” for Dallas, but come Sunday night at Scottrade, it’s “game on” for the Blues in the continuation of its quest of Lord Stanley’s Cup in a Western Conference finals showdown against San Jose.
“We’re going to see who our opponent is, get ready for them and play another tough series against another Western Conference opponent,” Backes responded to a locker room scribe prior to the Sharks’ series win over Nashville. “It doesn’t matter who it is in the West or the East, there’s going to be four great teams that are left and we have to keep elevating our game.”
Eight up and, potentially, eight to go. Blues hockey is still alive in the 2016 NHL post-season and the journey reaches a newfound fever pitch this weekend…deep in the heart of St. Louis.
(KTVI/KPLR videographer Brian Ledford covered Game 7 in Dallas between the Blues and the Stars)