After the first few games of the Calgary-St. Louis series, critics accused the Blues of playing boring hockey.
Presumably, those barbs will be heard no more after the Blues tied the Campbell Conference final Monday night in St. Louis in one of the most exciting playoff games of recent memory.
All that the Blues won, though, by rallying from three goals down in the last 12 minutes and then prevailing, 6-5, on Doug Wickenheiser's overtime goal, was the right to play the Flames here Wednesday for a berth in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Blues already had earned the respect of opponents and fans by defeating Minnesota and Toronto in series that also went the limit. They ousted the North Stars in Minnesota, then conquered the Maple Leafs after rallying from a 3-0 deficit to take the pivotal fifth game on Mark Reeds' overtime goal.
"I don't think we'll hear anything about our boring style anymore," said St. Louis Coach Jacques Demers. "I think it just came about because of the contrast between the play in our early games against Calgary and the Edmonton-Calgary series that had just ended.
"We obviously don't have the talent of Edmonton, but we didn't get here by not playing good hockey. We have some exciting players, and a few of them have been slowed by injuries, but they're starting to show what they can do."
Brian Sutter, Greg Paslawski and Wickenheiser made major contributions to the Blues' comeback Monday. Sutter, who broke his left shoulder in January and aggravated it during a fight with Willi Plett on his first shift of the Minnesota series, scored his first goal of the playoffs to trim the Flames' lead to 5-3 with 11:52 left in regulation.
"Our line had 14 shots in the third period and we had two more chances where the puck hit the post," Sutter said. "Then we scored on three straight shots. I guess we were lucky, but you've got to work to be lucky."
"Brian was mad, not in a nasty way, that he wasn't getting a lot of ice time in the first two games," Demers said. "I told him we had to gradually get him back in game condition, and now he's there. He's an inspiration. He's the kind of guy who will do anything to get everyone going."
Paslawski, who was benched for Game 2 here and did not have a goal in the series, closed the gap to 5-4 with 4:11 left, on an assist from Sutter. Then he scored again with 1:08 remaining to tie it, after stealing the puck from Jamie Macoun near the Calgary net. Paslawski missed 24 games late in the season because of a knee injury, and there is a suspicion he is still less than 100 percent.
"When he's not going, people tend not to notice Greg, but he's been working hard for us and he's been helping out defensively," Demers said. "That's a good sign. You knew it was a matter of time before he broke out."
Wickenheiser's second goal of the game won it in overtime. Although he had played in all 17 previous playoff games, these were his first goals.
"I was out in the yard before I came to the arena and I saw how much work I have to do, so I was ready to do anything so I didn't have to start it," he said.
He was laughing as he spoke, the first time he has enjoyed himself much in a long time. He fell off a truck and severely hurt a knee 14 months ago, and it was not until January that he rejoined the team. He had only eight goals in 36 games before the playoffs.
"Wick is still three months behind," said Bernie Federko, who started the game-winning play with a steal from Paul Reinhart. "You can practice all you want, but a game situation is a different ball game. He's had a tough haul back, and it's nice to see him contribute like that."
Although the Flames have to be in a state of shock after watching victory slip away on Monday, the Blues know they will face a difficult task when they skate out amid that sea of red in the Saddledome on Wednesday.
"It's going to be a battle," Wickenheiser said. "They're not going to give us anything."
It is hard to imagine the teams playing any more physically than they have, but with a berth in the final at stake, there will be no holding back.
If the Flames enjoy home-ice advantage and the knowledge that they have superior talent, the Blues came here today on an emotional high.
"That was one of the great comebacks in history," said Demers, one of the great positive thinkers in history. "This one came from the impossible. This team has so much character. We just didn't want to lose."
The Flames did not want to lose, either, and the knowledge that they had sponsored one of the great giveaways in Stanley Cup history slowly sank in.
"It's a case where we let a team back in the game that had no business there," Macoun said. "We should be on our way to the Stanley Cup final. Now we'll have to pay our dues for what happened."
"I wish I knew what went wrong," said Lanny McDonald, dreaming of his first Stanley Cup ring at age 33. "I wish I had the answer. Thank God we've got a chance to redeem ourselves."