CHICAGO — Picture it, 318 all-time match-ups between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, bitter Central Division rivals that goes back to when St. Louis first entered the NHL in 1967.
The Blues have been called by more than a few different people, the little brothers to those of the Windy City, who have the edge in the all-time series.
But after blanking the Blackhawks 2-0 on Sunday night at United Center behind Jake Allen's 29-save gem, his second this season (both in this building), the Blues accomplished something never done before in their history: Sweeping a season series from the Blackhawks.
"Oh yeah," Blues coach Craig Berube said when told that after the Blues went 4-0-0 against Chicago. "Well, there you go. Good stuff."
Now each team has a season sweep over the other. Chicago's was in the 1971-72 season when they went 6-0-0. It's been an intense rivalry, one in which the Hawks have got the better of over the years, but in recent memory, the little brother has flexed his muscles, and it's about time.
"It's pretty cool," said Allen, who passed Jaroslav Halak and moved into second place on Blues' all-time shutout list with his 21st. "Obviously they're our biggest rival to date. We play them a lot. They got the best of us there for a while. It's good to get some wins under our belt. The rivalry's still going to go on for a long time. It's going to be fun moving forward."
Kick a man when he's down, right? Well, that's what the Blues have done to Chicago.
One could go back in history and pick out a plethora of key moments, but as recent as the 2017-18 season, remember when Duncan Keith scored with eight seconds left in regulation in the third-to-last game of the season in St. Louis, which resulted in a devastating 4-3 loss? Instead of getting a point, which the Blues could have used, they got nothing, and missed out on the playoffs by a point when they lost at Colorado, 5-2, in the final game of the regular season.
Well, this bitter pill swallowed by the Hawks Sunday didn't officially eliminate them from postseason contention, but it surely accelerated the life support system that's desperately trying to keep the Blackhawks in place.
"Especially looking at how many great teams they've had and how much high-end skill and talent they still have right now," said Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, whose goal in the second period at 6:41 proved to be the game-winner. "It's a matchup that we take a lot of pride in. It's been around for a long time. We've done a good job of things this year."
The Blues put on two defensive clinics in the United Center this season and outscored the Blackhawks 6-0 after winning here 4-0 on Dec. 2. At home, it's been a different story. Two wild and wacky games, just what one would expect, including a 1980's style 6-5 Blues win on Feb. 25 that required four third-period goals by the home side. And in a 4-3 win over Chicago on Dec. 14, the Blues erased a 3-0 third-period deficit.
"We were pretty solid defensively tonight," Berube said. "Obviously gave up a few chances off the rush but not many. I thought our guys did a real good job of gapping up on them, not giving them enough time. Our forwards were reloading hard and getting back. We did a good job."
The Blues were scintillating on the penalty kill, especially in the second period when they three of their four on the night.
Chicago, which at the time of the Feb. 25 game, had the worst power-play in the NHL at 14.2 percent. They finished that game 3-for-4.
On Sunday, the Blues' PK was a perfect 4-for-4 with only one shot on goal allowed.
"Yeah, almost like we needed a response, right," said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, whose third-period goal at 5:27 provided the insurance with his 10th goal on the road and ties Washington's John Carlson for most in the NHL. "We've kind of grabbed it the last couple games here and have been a lot better. Obviously you don't like giving up three like we did against them the last time. Our goal was to limit them as much as we could."
And then there is Allen, who came up with the timely saves when needed and thwarted any potential Chicago momentum. He made one particular save on Patrick Kane in the second period, a kick stop with his left pad off a virtual 3-on-1.
"Originally it was a 3-on-1, so I think he was looking backdoor a little bit," Allen said of Kane. "I could sort of tell by his eyes and stick that he was looking for a little backdoor slip play there. I think when he didn't have it, he tried to go backhand five-hole.
"... I just think tonight was a big game for us, to be honest with you. We felt as a group we weren't at our best. We got away with one in New York. 'Binner' played great, but we needed to get back to our game, and I thought in the third period there the first 15 minutes of that period, we played our game, we dominated. It pretty much changed the tides of the game, didn't really give them any momentum until when they pulled the goalie there."
And that's when Allen iced the cake with some timely stops when Chicago pulled Corey Crawford.
"His game was excellent," Berube said of Allen. "I thought he was solid all game, really packed it in there with pucks, playing pucks, moving it, fighting through screens, things like that and obviously some big saves that he had to make.
"... Timely saves are huge and he made some of them. Just thinking to the second period there late, they had a lot of opportunities and he made some big saves and keeping it 1-0. He was excellent."
Bortuzzo's goal came off a Blues rush towards the net with a forecheck. Brayden Schenn got a loose puck to Bortuzzo and he deftly roofed a shot over Crawford from a severe sharp angle.
"That's like 13-, 14-year-old outdoor rink stuff," Bortuzzo joked. "I've worked that out of my game actually, but sometimes they pop up once in a while. Fortunately got to bury one.
"It's hard to create offense in this league so we preach our D to kind of move around and help guys jump into holes. Our forwards do a helluva job of up-beating guys and off checks. I think Sammy Blais came up and made a good play off his check and had a good chance first. Its an instinct play. You're trying to find ice and puck found me and went in. ... Yeah, I don't know what the geometry was on that one, but I'll take it."
As for Pietrangelo, Schenn made the original play keeping a puck in the zone from Alex Nylander's turnover. The Blues went to work, and Jaden Schwartz's cross-seam pass to Pietrangelo, almost on the same angle as Bortuzzo, and the captain buried it and for all intents and purposes, buried Chicago's season.
"Good pass from Schwartzy," Pietrangelo said. "I think for us, when they're pressing like that and it's 1-0, you know they're trying to get a goal so I knew if I could just make a play to get it past him, I was going to have an open spot. I thought Schwartzy was going to shoot it. I realized he didn't shoot it because I was wide open."
What the Blues (41-18-10) needed more than anything was a good response after a thud in New Jersey Friday, a 4-2 loss that ended their eight-game winning streak.
"Yeah, that was good to see," Berube said. "We were focused yesterday in practice. We weren't happy with losing in Jersey. You're playing the Hawks, it's always going to be a good effort. It's a big rival game obviously. It's a big game for the Hawks too. It was going to be a big game and it was."
"You knew we were going to have a good response," Pietrangelo said. "We obviously weren't happy with the way we played in New York, both games, Rangers and New Jersey. And then a heck of a response here. I think we had a good practice yesterday to kind of get our minds right and lived to see the result of it."
They rose the occasion on the big stage too.
"We take a ton of pride in that type of hockey," Bortuzzo said. "Jake's been a rock for us when called upon. He's been great in this building especially. Guys take a lot of pride coming into this building. It's a fun place to play. A chance to play on NBC Sports. It's in Chicago, it's the Madhouse. It's an exciting challenge for us and a lot of high-end skill for us to put up a good effort and to keep them off the scoresheet is impressive."
The Blues have no time to waste. They flew home after the game to get ready for another playoff-type game Monday at home, against the Florida Panthers.
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