Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 4/15/12
ST. LOUIS They marked their growth by raising their sticks at center ice. On a night when the St. Louis Blues had to win to keep a realistic chance of advancing alive, on a night when the San Jose Sharks tried to bully them for a second consecutive game at the Scottrade Center, the Blues reminded everyone Saturday why they became one of the NHL's most feared teams at home this season. They reminded everyone how dangerous they can be when they play mad. And this is what the result looked like: The Blues circling center ice to a deafening roar after their 3-0 victory in Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. To the side, sticks and helmets were scattered near a wall following a postgame melee. San Jose players skated away knowing the series now tied at one game apiece will only become more physical when it resumes Monday at the HP Pavilion. Yes, the second-seeded Blues stood up to the seventh-seeded Sharks and smacked them in a way unlike a team that had not won in the postseason since 2004. Their victory was emphatic over a playoff-tested opponent coach Ken Hitchcock used words like "matured" and "grew up" afterward and it came on a night when they needed it most. "It's intense," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "They came into our building and took the first one. We needed to come back and play a strong game and play physical. It's playoff hockey, and that's what you get." What San Jose got was St. Louis' best effort at home in more than two weeks. The Blues entered the playoffs with a 30-6-5 record at the Scottrade Center only the Detroit Red Wings' 31-7-3 mark at Joe Louis Arena was better but they had lost four consecutive games in the building since shutting out the Nashville Predators on March 27. St. Louis' breakout happened for a variety of reasons. Backup goalie Brian Elliott was strong, stopping 17 shots after Jaroslav Halak left early in the second period because of a lower-body injury; center David Backes and wingers Andy McDonald and Vladimir Sobotka each scored to make goalie Antti Niemi seem more mortal after he made 40 saves Thursday; the Blues matched the Sharks' toughness and displayed some intimidation of their own, much to the pleasure of their Stanley Cup-winning coach. "We grew up to the level of what it takes to win against a team that knows how to do it," Hitchcock said. "That part feels good. We have some more knowledge that we need to compete at this level at this time of year. There's a level out there. There's a tenacity. Teams like San Jose, Chicago, Detroit they play right through you. And if you don't respond, you get pushed out the back door quick." Entering Saturday, St. Louis was in danger of being pushed toward the offseason. Another San Jose victory at the Scottrade Center would have been a major psychological blow. It would have devastated an inexperienced playoffs team like the Blues. Instead, St. Louis finds itself with a mental edge with the series going west. If the Sharks were going to steal one victory on the road, the Blues are fortunate Game 2 offered a chance for redemption. After all, they proved to themselves and the NHL on Saturday that they are ready to make the step from regular-season stalwart to postseason threat. They proved they are capable of capturing the style of play that made them a Presidents' Trophy contender before stumbling late in the regular season. And they proved they have enough depth with a group that is willing to adjust to the demands of playoff hockey despite their shallow knowledge about this time of year. (Before this spring, St. Louis had appeared in the playoffs once in the past six seasons.) So where will the Blues' growth lead? It's too early to tell traveling to San Jose will present a test but they should feel better about their position than they did Thursday. They should feel better about winning three more games against the Sharks if they play with the same drive shown Saturday. Sure, Game 1 meant doubt for a team expected to contend for the Western Conference title. But Game 2 offered discovery. "Once you get in the playoffs, there's urgency every game," Blues defenseman Kris Russell told FOXSports.com. "Obviously, we weren't happy with the result in the previous game. But tonight was a big game, was a big test for us. I thought we came out well, but it's only getting harder from here." Yes, it will get harder. But the good news for the Blues is that they could have flown to California while gripped in an unforgiving spiral, down two games and doubting their ability to recover. They could have been lost. Of course, St. Louis will face a much more favorable situation before Game 3. They are far from comfortable, but their outlook improved because they matured in the playoffs when it mattered most.
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