Blues reflect on winning Winter Classic

ST. LOUIS - The Blues didn't practice on Tuesday, and that was no surprise.

They were going to get a day off regardless of the final outcome Monday at the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium.

But winning 4-1 certainly made Tuesday's day off much sweeter to the players, who needed a bolt after the thud of a 4-0 loss to Nashville just three days prior.

The Blues (20-13-5), who get back to practice on Wednesday to continue a season-long six-game homestand against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, fought the elements that held off as well as possible when the forecast looked grim, they punched their way through with three goals over the game's final eight minutes to make the tightly-contested score more dominating -- although the Blues were the better team throughout, and they were consistently solid from top to bottom, including in goal with Jake Allen.

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Playing in front of 46-556 rabid fans is one thing, but when they're farther away from the ice surface than one is expected, likely made it easier for the Blues to look past all the glitz and glamour of a spectacle.

"Well, as I told the players, once the puck's dropped, it's 85 by 200 and it's a glassed-in hockey rink," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "But you can't help but look around. And it's just almost overwhelming to look around.

"I think that the thing that's really interesting is the feel I got from what a baseball standpoint is. I could hear what everybody was saying to us as we were coming on and off the ice. And it will be really interesting if you didn't have a good baseball team here. But it's an amazing atmosphere because the people are right there with you. Hockey, we're muffled. We're muffled because of the glass around the boards, we go down a tunnel, we come out of a tunnel. But, man, the atmosphere when you're walking onto the stage or you're coming off in between periods, it's amazing how engaged the fans are and how supportive they are and how much they want you to do well. But I think for our players, that was a great experience to feel like you were a player of another sport, because it's what happens in football, it's what happens in baseball, and it was very unique for me to walk and actually see faces and people are like six feet away from you encouraging you."

The Blues fell behind in the game's first minute and three seconds, then went to work. They outshot Chicago 35-23 for the game and it was every bit as indicative as they played.

"The guys did a great job of doing what they could with what we were given weather-wise," said left wing Alexander Steen, who had an empty-net goal and an assist. "It is what it is, but it was fine. It was good. It was a little bit different, but it was very enjoyable.

"They got the bounce in the first and then we got the one in the third. It evened itself out. ... You can only prepare so much, and then we we come out, the whole place erupted. It was a pretty good feeling."

Said left wing Robby Fabbri, who assisted on both Vladimir Tarasenko goals in the third: "Walking out before that game, hearing the fans and seeing the setup was great. ... It was a lot louder. It was crazy looking around and seeing how many people were out there.

"It felt like going into that third, we felt good about our game. We knew if we get on our toes, we put them on their heels. We just tried to get at them, play simple and get pucks to the net, get our bodies there and that's what we did."

Tarasenko, who scored goal nos. 17 and 18, got a fortuitous bounce when his backhand pass to Jori Lehtera in the slot banked into the net off Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson with 7:55 remaining, but his snipe with 6:02 remaining was indicative of how the Blues pushed the envelope instead of having the opposition dictate the pace of the game.

"(We) stuck with the game plan," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "I mean, I said it to you guys all year, it's been a bit of an issue. And any time you got Vladi on your team, that usually helps. He's able to take over the game for us and shut them down after that."

And when Steen scored the empty-netter with 1:14 remaining, it was a well-deserved win, a win the Blues needed and kept the Blackhawks (23-12-5) reeling with their fifth loss in six games (1-4-1) and 1-4-0 all-time in outdoor games.

"I think the game takes care of itself," said defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, playing in his second outdoor game (2011 Heritage Classic with the Calgary Flames) who set up Patrik Berglund's goal in the second to tie the game and played a well-rounded game. "We play so many games and that's what you do. Everyone prepares the same. Once you kind of get into it, you get over the conditions and the surroundings and it's a hockey game.

"I think the biggest thing is just enjoy it, take it in. This won't happen here again for a long time, I wouldn't imagine. At the end of the game, or warmups, look around, enjoy it and it was cool.

"... The first period was kind of hard. The ice was wet. ... The second period, it kind of cleared up. The ice was a lot better. The game was getting good. It was fun. It was a different atmosphere playing hockey because the atmosphere was so far away. I don't even know how to describe it because it's so different from a game on a regular arena. Awesome experience, our fans were awesome. Everybody was into it. I'm a baseball fan, I've been to baseball games here and it's an awesome atmosphere. To kind of experience that on the field on the ice, it's pretty cool."

"It's really a great win for us, and I think everyone played our best today," Tarasenko said.

The Blues will have to turn the page on a great event put on by their franchise, the Cardinals and their city with a terrific turnout by the fans, but they deserved to bask in this, being first-timers.

"It's pretty cool. Obviously, being the captain, being able to have the first Winter Classic is a huge honor," Pietrangelo said. "I mean, I speak for these guys and everybody else, I think the first real awe was (Sunday) in practice, having our family on the bench and the family skate afterwards was, that was pretty cool. We're lucky we had that kind of got the emotional side out of the way. And when the game got going, it just pretty much felt like a normal game for us, I think. Obviously a little bit different, but you get so into the game and playing against our biggest rival, it's just business as usual.

"But I think after the game when you stop and take a look, we saluted the crowd. I don't know about these guys, but it's probably the coolest thing I've been a part of."

* NOTES -- The Blues placed forward Ty Rattie on Tuesday with hopes of passing him through and sending him to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

Rattie, who has only played four games this season, hasn't played in a game with the Blues since Nov. 28, missing the past 15; he had one assist with the Wolves on a conditioning assignment.

Teams have until 11 a.m. (central time) to claim Rattie, who has a $650,000 cap hit ($346,667 of it remaining) on a one-year contract before he becomes a restricted free agent.


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