Back In The Playoffs, Spartans Headed Up Hillby Sean Gallagher | April 21, 2017, 12:57 AM ET
They took it literally as far as possible. Playing on the last day of the season in the latest starting game for teams that were still in a race for a playoff berth, the Spartans scored late in the third period, couldn't close in overtime and waited until the third frame of the shootout to clinch a playoff berth. As Ryan Johansen's shootout try hit the net and fell, seemingly in slow motion, back to that small patch of ice-covered earth behind Stockholm goalie Steve Mason, the St. Louis players, management and hometown fans leapt the other way, as close to the sky as they could manage.
After a multi-year drought, the Spartans are back in the playoffs.
"Frankly, we got lucky with a couple win streaks at the right times," said Sean Gallagher, "And we all know that if London hadn't lost Ovechkin for as long as they did, we probably don't slip past them.
"Even without him, they managed to get wins when they needed them to force this drama."
And now, having slipped past Dublin, Kansas City and finally London, the Spartans have earned the right to play the Havana Revolution. Havana, of course, lost star rookie Connor McDavid for two weeks at the end of the year and still coasted to first place in the conference with 113 points. Best news for Havana-slash-worst news for St. Louis? McDavid got healthy just in time for Game One.
The biggest challenge for the Spartans will probably not be the tough team they line up against but rather the mental switch they have to make to be ready to play in the playoffs.
"This is a young team," said Gallagher, "We're all very excited that we made the playoffs and in such a late, exciting way. But it's like having an amazing, super-fun wedding. That's a great party, but all the work is just beginning.
"We have to get these guys to get over the excitement of just getting here and make them realize that Havana has been awaiting our arrival for a long time now. Their eyes are on the bigger prize. Are our guys ready to start a new battle or are they too happy about the one they just won?"
Either way, the Spartans are still coming into the (Conor Mc)David versus (not)Goliath matchup missing a couple key components. Phillip Danault, who has proven to be a solid penalty killer in his rookie year and top offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk both remain unavailable for this series. The Spartans' depth isn't what the Revolution can boast - uh, their second line center is a guy named Tyler Seguin - so they'll need some Battle Of The 300 type of performances just to push this series beyond four or five games.
"We're looking forward to it," said Gallagher, "I'm ready. I just hope everyone else is."