ST. LOUIS It was a celebration ten years in the making, but took just 45 seconds to begin.
Trailing 1-0 in the third period and looking more and more like they might be headed back to San Jose for a Game 6 Monday night, the St. Louis Blues showed why times are changing under the shadows of the Arch.
The Blues erased the deficit with two goals in a span of just 45 seconds, adding a late empty netter to beat the seventh-seeded Sharks 3-1 to win their Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup 4-1.
But the win wasn't just any old win. It was the Blues' first series-clinching victory since they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in five games back in the 2002 quarterfinals.
"The fans have been waiting a long time and been very patient," said defenseman Barret Jackman, a career-long Blue since they drafted him back in 1999. "It's nice to give them a little taste of what's to come.
"You just hear the fans out there, behind us the whole way. You look around the city and just being out in public and you hear guys constantly coming up to you and it has been pretty scarce for that the last six years but it's fun and electric in the city again."
The Blues set numerous team records during the regular season and missed out on the President's Trophy by just two points, making expectations high as they entered the playoffs for just the second time since 2004.
But when the second-seeded Blues lost Game 1 in double-overtime on home ice, doubt slowly began to creep into the minds of Blues fans. Was this going to end like every season since 2002 had ended, without advancing past the first round?
The Blues responded with an emphatic NO, winning the next four games of the series including two in San Jose to knock out a decade of frustration and advance into the second round for the first time since they lost in five games to the Detroit Red Wings in 2002.
"You can see the excitement," said veteran Jamie Langenbrunner, who joined the Blues last summer as a free agent. "My kid's hockey game got canceled tonight because we were playing. It's good to see, but this team isn't focused on making the playoffs or winning a first round. We have bigger goals. We're excited to win that first round, we're excited with every goal we've accomplished so far but we have a few more left."
Scottrade Center was surprisingly quiet for much of the first two periods and early third, but the Blues sluggish play was likely the culprit. The Sharks scored with 41 seconds left in the second period to take the 1-0 lead.
But the fans soon got their chance to erupt. First came the tying goal from Langenbrunner with 8:44 left in the third period when the veteran banged home a rare rebound from Sharks goalie Antti Niemi.
Then the go-ahead goal just 45 seconds later when David Perron redirected a shot past Niemi with 7:59 left to play, sending the capacity crowd into a frenzy reserved only for a moment like that.
A decade of disappointment was no more.
"The joy and explosion that happened in this building was unbelievable," said coach Ken Hitchcock. "And it was 50 percent joy in my opinion and 50 percent relief. I think the fans carried the tension of something bad is going to happen and I know what that's like and I know you think something bad is going to happen but man, when we scored that second goal, the roof just came right off and then you saw joy.
"People an hour later still didn't want to leave the building and that just shows you where this fan base is at now and I think they can now enjoy hockey rather than live in the disappointment of not getting through the first round or even not getting into the playoffs."
The Blues and Sharks completed the annual handshake line on the Scottrade Center ice as the fans, many of them who had been standing for nearly 20 minutes since the Blues goals, waved their rally towels and danced in the isles.
The roar only got louder as the Blues waited for San Jose to exit the ice before saluting the fans by raising their sticks at center ice.
But back in the locker room, the celebration was more subdued. There was no champagne as is the case in baseball. There was no confetti flying. For the Blues, this was the first step in what they hope is a lengthy playoff run.
"We're not done," said forward David Backes. "We have to enjoy that we won the round and a lot of work went into it, but it's not the end goal. If we're complacent and happy that we've accomplished something, round two we're playing a team that also bounced someone from the playoffs, so it's something that we have to enjoy but have a reality check and know that there's a lot more work to be done.
"The feeling that this team had when I came here six years ago, you could maybe count the people up in the stands, there was probably 9,000. It was half full and you didn't know if you were playing a home game or a road game. Now with the rally towels and what they have going on up there, it's a good feeling to see where this franchise has come and what direction we're headed in."