Despite losing 3-2 in overtime to the Vancouver Canucks Thursday night at Scottrade Center, the St. Louis Blues proved to themselves and likely the rest of the NHL that they aren't going anywhere.
The Blues played every bit as good and arguably better than the Western Conference's top team, missing a chance to take over the top spot on a questionable penalty late in regulation and a miscommunication early in overtime.
But the Blues did more than just earn a point. They showed they belong.
"It's a good feeling," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. "You have to walk out of here with a good feeling. They are a good team, a real good team, and we were right there the whole way - and at times, especially after the first five minutes, we were better."
The Blues fell behind 1-0 just three minutes into the game but as good teams do, responded with the game-tying goal just a minute later. They regained the lead midway through the second period on Jason Arnott's second goal of the game.
But showing they still have room for growth, the Blues couldn't convert on numerous chances to extend the lead, including two breakways by David Baxkes and T.J. Oshie in the second period.
As if those in attendance could see it coming, the Canucks took advantage of the Blues miscues and tied the game with just 2:08 to play in the second period.
St. Louis played right with the Canucks in an even third period before a questionable call on Backes with under a minute left in regulation gave the Canucks a 4-on-3 power play to start overtime.
The Canucks scored the winning goal just 46 seconds into OT when Oshie incorrectly skated towards the bench to get a new stick, leaving the visitors with an easy 4-on-2 advantage.
"They obviously showed why they are the top team in the league, or at least in the west," Oshie said. "They play for a full 60 and then they play extra, but I thought, personally, that we played a really great game, a great team game.
"They are going to get their chances but I think we had more chances than them. We definitely had more shots on net than them, but we just have to get more traffic and guys have to score when they get their opportunities."
The Blues were decisive winners in the shots on goal department, firing 33 shots at netminder Roberto Luongo compared to just 21 shots at Brian Elliott by the Canucks. The Blues controlled the game for much of the night, applying much more of the pressure.
Thursday was the third meeting of the season between the two teams. The Blues won the two previous meetings, a 3-0 win in Vancouver in late October and a 3-2 win in St. Louis in early November.
And despite not winning Thursday, the Blues did nothing to show they can't compete with Vancouver and the other top teams in the conference.
"I think that we are one of the big boys in the conference," said defenseman Ian Cole. "Obviously we're disappointed. We had a lot of good shifts by a lot of guys out there. A lot of good play.
"It stinks, but we have to capitalize when we get the chances there in the second period. We had a lot of chances and didn't score. We needed those."
The Blues dropped from second to fourth in the tight Western Conference with the combination of their overtime loss and the Chicago Blackhawks' 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild. But they are just one point behind the Blackhawks for the top spot in the Central Division and remained a point ahead of the rival Detroit Red Wings.
If Thursday's game did anything, it showed a young Blues team that they were every bit as good as a top team like Vancouver while still having plenty of room for improvement.
They didn't win Thursday night, but the Blues had plenty of reasons to be excited. They put the rest of the NHL on notice. They are for real.
"We're right up there too," said Elliott. "It's a measuring stuck and we obviously didn't quite come up to where we wanted to on that stick but we're lucky that we play them one or two more times and we can get back at them."
The Blues have four consecutive home games before facing their next big test, a road battle in Detroit on January 23. They have one game remaining with the Canucks, March 1 in Vancouver.