Training camp is still a few weeks away for the St. Louis Blues but fans are already starting to salivate about the start of the season. To whet that appetite we will take the next few posts to look at the greatest games in Blues history. We start with what may be the greatest comeback in NHL history, November 29th, 2000 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Blues entered the game on a two game win streak and a 15-4-3 record, only two points behind Colorado for first in the West. Roman Turek and Brent Johnson were leading the league in goals against average and had allowed only one goal in the previous two games. But this game would be far from what the Blues had experienced early in this season.
The Blues started off flat and the Leafs capitalized with an unusual opening goal scorer in Tie Domi. Fortunately for Turek and the Blues that was the only goal allowed in the first and the poor start looked like it could be turned around easily.
St. Louis decided to make it hard on themselves, though, as they opened the second just as poorly as the first period. This time they let the floodgates open allowing three goals in the period to fall behind 4-0 after two periods. While not impossible to overcome a 4 goal defecit, its definitely not a recommended strategy.
As the third period began, it looked like the lackluster play would continue throughout the rest of the game. When Domi netted his second goal of the game at 2:54 of the third, completing a three point night, the final stake looked like it had been nailed in and fans turned off the game in droves. The Blues pulled goalie Roman Turek and put Brent Johnson in for mop up duty.
The Blues, as a team, looked about as down as a kid losing his puppy and if they would have just packed it in it wouldn’t have been a surprise. But a funny thing happened at 4:51 of the third, when Chris Pronger’s fluttering slap shot eluded Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph for the Blues first goal of the game. At this point in the game, Cujo laughed the goal as he lost his shutout on a fluke goal, but little did he know what was to come and he would not be laughing much longer.
Roughly two minutes later the Blues were granted a power play, which at the time was one of the best in the league. Early on the Blues had great puck movement and Al MacInnis found forward Dallas Drake in the near corner. Drake was able to secure the puck and find Lubos Bartecko on the side boards.
Defensemen Alexander Khavanov, not the offensive defensemen like MacInnis, was left unmarked on the far side of the ice and as Bartecko gained the puck made a move to the net. Bartecko saw this and darted to the goal line before firing a laser of a pass through the crease to the stick of Khavanov who slid it past Joseph for the second goal for the Blues in two minutes.
Even though it was a still three goal lead, the air in the building was slowing leaking out and pretty soon there would be absolute silence from the Toronto fans.
Less then two minutes later, the Blues were back on the power play and had a face off in the offensive zone. Center Michal Handzus, later a part of the blockbuster Tkachuk deal, won the draw clean back to Al MacInnis who slid the puck to partner Chris Pronger. Pronger looked of the approaching forward and fired the puck back to MacInnis who let loose his howitzer of a shot. Somehow the puck found the back of the net and all of a sudden this was a game again.
After a few minutes of play, though, it looked like the Blues may have had their last gasp as they could not get any more sustained pressure in the Leaf’s zone. The positive was that Toronto was also not getting any chances in the time span either. In fact, over the course of the third period, the Blues would allow only 4 shots to the host team.
Its fitting we chronicle this game at this time as the hero of this game is one Pavol Demitra, who tragically lost his life in a plane crash in Russia this week, along with countless other hockey stars and future stars.
With about 6 minutes remaining in the game, Demtira gained the puck in the neutral zone and proceeded to enter the Leaf’s zone. Pulling up once he crossed the blue line, Demtira found one part of the Slovak line in Handzus. Demitra flicked the puck toward Handzus but it got caught up in the defenders skates. What seemed like a lost play turned into a lucky break for the Blues.
Instead of bouncing away from Handzus, the puck somehow found its way to his stick as he maneuvered around the defensemen. With a slight twitch of the wrist, Handzus redirected the puck away form the sliding Joseph to the open net and putting the Blues one goal closer to a historic comeback.
After a few near misses by the Blues, time started to wind down and the comeback seemed destined to fall short. But with under a minute remaining, Joel Queneville pulled Johnson, giving the Blues a 6 on 5 advantage. With the puck securely in the zone, the Blues started throwing bodies and pucks at the net hoping something would find its way through.
With about 30 seconds left in the game, Demitra fired a puck to the net that ricchoted off the leg of a Toronto defesemen. Once again Alexander Khavanov was in the right s
With 5 goals in 15:49 the Blues had staged one of the best comebacks in NHL history but they were far from done in this game. Its one thing to comeback to tie a game, its a whole other thing to win that game too.
At the start of overtime it was a complete reversal as to how the game started, the Leafs were flat and the Blues were all over the ice. On the opening faceoff Toronto fed the puck back into their zone but Demitra hounded the defensemen. Quickly he secured the puck behind the net and looked up to see if there was any one helping him.
As Demitra was forcing the issue behind the net, Jochen Hecht was looking for the right moment to spring into action. As Demitra was winning the puck, Hecht positioned himself squarely in front of the net and somehow was left wide open.
Seeing this, Demitra flung the puck to the front and Hecht jammed the puck between Jospeh’s pads and the comeback was complete. Somehow, someway the Blues had fought back from 5-0 down in the final 15:49 and had won the game.
Leaf’s players and fans were stunned as the Blues stormed the ice for one of the wildest regular season game celebrations ever. The furious comeback win propelled the Blues to an 8 game win streak and was one of the reasons they won the Presidents Cup that season.
Next time we take a look at the Monday Night Miracle and the implications of that game.