I write this because I am, well, deranged today.
So much excitement, with the Blues turning St. Louis into a hockey town.
Wait a minute; St. Louis already was a hockey town … a great hockey town … even though nationally we’ve viewed as a Baseball Town.
What a phenomenal night, this memorable Tuesday in downtown STL.
With a 5-1 takedown of the San Jose Sharks in Game 6, the Blues advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970.
In no particular order — these aren’t rankings — here’s are my 49 stream-of-consciousness reasons why a long, cruel stretch of postseason dehydration ended on a stormy, rainy, wet, wild, and winds-of-change evening in St. Louis.
1. Because Blues fans deserved it, damn it. The last time a Blues team won a game to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, it was April 30, 1970 with The Note Winning at Pittsburgh. That means 17,918 days had elapsed between conference-clinching victories. Or: 2,559 weeks and five days. Or: nearly 26 million minutes. It was a long time coming.
2. Jordan Binnington happened. In his latest display of cryogenic excellence, Winnington stopped 75 of 77 shots over the final three games of the Western Conference Final — frustrating the Sharks and terminating their season.
3. There was not a chance in hell that the Blues would allow 900-year-old Joe Thornton to go on and win a Stanley Cup … not after what he did to David Perron in a vicious, filthy, concussion-causing cheap shot. Thornton got away from the Blues once, when San Jose won the conference in 2016. Well, no more. This forced, media-driven “Win One For Thornton” nonsense was instant nausea.
4. Last summer Blues president of hockey ops Doug Armstrong traded for center Ryan O’Reilly.
5. Armstrong also signed free-agent center Tyler Bozak.
6. Because of Army’s moves, the Blues were stronger, deeper and more flexible and talented at center than they’ve been in many years. And that was absolutely is a critical factor in the postseason success.
7. Armstrong signed power forward Pat Maroon to a one-year free-agent contract. Army brought the Big Rig home to his native St. Louis — and Maroon gave the Blues size, an element of brawn and orneriness.
8. One moment — Maroon’s winning goal in double overtime of Game 7 — was worth every penny the Blues are paying Big Rig. He gave the Blues a second-round victory over Dallas and a spot in the Western Conference Final.
9. Because the Blues deserved this more than San Jose. I never will understand the pre-series national media intoxication with the Sharks, and all this baloney about how it was their time to Win It All! after getting close so many times. Um, what? The Blues entered the league in 1967. The Sharks entered the league in 1991 … oh, my! That’s 27 ENTIRE SEASONS of hellfire on earth for the Sharks and their fans! Good grief …. the Blues have competed for 51 seasons. The Blues have been in the playoffs twice as many times — 42 to 21 — as San Jose. And the Sharks were the media-bandwagon pick in the choice between long-suffering franchises and fan bases? Please. Have some perspective.
10. Armstrong fired coach Mike Yeo after a stinker 4-1 home loss to the LA Kings on Nov. 19. The Blues were 7-9-3. They were in disarray. They were demoralized.
11. Armstrong promoted Craig Berube to interim coach of the Blues. Berube went 38-19-6 during the remainder of the regular season. And he’s the first coach in Blues history to win 12 games in a single postseason … and still counting. Not gonna be the interim much longer.
12. Armstrong didn’t give up on his team after the 15-18-4 Blues were wallowing in last place in the NHL with the lowest points total (34.) The talent was there. The right coach was there. Army gave it more time.
13. Since Jan. 3 until the end of the regular season the Blues went 30-10-5 and had the most points (65) in the NHL over that time.
14. On Jan. 6 a group of players walked into a bar-restaurant-club in Philadelphia the night before the Blues played the Flyers, heard the DJ play the late Laura Branigan hit, “Gloria,” and the Blues immediately had a totem for celebrating victories … a totem that served as an all-purpose joy-raising experience.
15. The next night, on Jan. 7, the Blues beat the Flyers 3-0. The game marked the first NHL start for 25-year-old rookie Jordan Binnington, who calmly turned in a shutout by turning aside 25 shots. Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be, eh rook?
16. Little did we know, but in Binnington the Blues had found their Kurt Warner. From that first start until the end of the regular season, Binnington went 24-5-1 and led NHL goalies (minimum 1,500 minutes played) in 5-on-5 save percentage (.941) and goals-against average (1.91.) And he was fifth in high-danger save percentage at 5-on-5.
17. On Jan. 23 the Blues won a late-night game at Anaheim, 5-1. And kept winning. And winning. They notched their 11th consecutive victory (3-2 in overtime) at Toronto on Feb. 19. That 11-game winning streak gave this team the confidence it needed to truly believe that all good things were possible, including a Stanley Cup parade in STL.
18. Wicked hand-pass karma. Very wicked, extreme, hand-pass karma.
19. Have to salute, again, the way that Berube handled the situation after the Blues got cheated in the notorious hand-pass incident that led to San Jose’s winning goal in Game 3. The coach immediately got his guys to flush their anger and frustration by refocusing on the only thing that mattered: winning Game 4, and winning the series. Another example of the strong leadership that “Chief” provided as the perfect coach at the perfect time for a team that needed his tough but supportive and straightforward style.
20. The Blues outscored San Jose 12-2 over the final three games after that illegal hand pass by Sharks forward Timo Meier that set up the winning goal in Game 3.
21. After the hand pass, here’s what Meier did over the final three games, all won by the Blues: no goals, no assists, minus 4, five shots on goal, and a penalty that led to Tyler Bozak’s winning goal for The Note in Game 4. Yep, this is nasty hand-pass karma.
22. The Blues silenced Logan Couture who disappeared after Game 3. In the final three games the prematurely crowned “Conn Smythe” had no goals, no assists, eight shots, and was a minus 5.
23. Seven different Blues players scored goals in the final three games of the WC Final. Which means that seven different Blues did something that Couture didn’t do in three games and 120 minutes of hockey: score a freaking goal.
24. Defensemen Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester did a tremendous job in all areas during the series — but especially in shutting down San Jose’s top line, which vanished during the final three games.
25. Bouwmeester had a remarkable turnaround during the season. In the first two-plus months he looked old and slow after offseason hip surgery. But once he healed and regained mobility, he played some of the very best hockey of his 16-season career.
26. And yeah, the Blues had a proud veteran who has played very well for a long time, and with honor and class and distinction. (Unlike the old beard in San Jose.) Congrats, Mr. Bouwmeester. After 1,252 NHL games (including postseason), you’ve made it to your first Stanley Cup Finals.
27. Depth and balance. Depth and balance. Depth and balance. Star players willing to do role-player work. Role players stepping up to contribute star-player production. In their 19 postseason games the Blues have gotten goals from 18 different players. They had 12 different players score in the six-game San Jose series.
28. Remarkably the Blues scored 16 of the final 19 goals netted in this series, so I don’t want to hear any whining about San Jose’s injuries. The blowout was all but in the books by the time Joe Pavelski, Erik Karlsson and Tomas Hertl missed part of Game 5 and didn’t play in Game 6.
29. My goodness, the Blues fixed their power play! They scored five goals in 21 attempts for the series (23.8 percent.) That includes 4 of 14 (28.5%) over the final three games.
30. The Blues’ penalty kill got tighter; San Jose went 2 for 13 on power plays during the series and went one for seven on the PP in during the final three games.
31. The players have extra inspiration to win for their most amazing young fan, Laila Anderson, age 11, who is bravely battling a life-threatening immune disease disorder called HLH. Laila was in the locker room after Tuesday’s series-clinching win.
32. “We really look up to you,” The Big Rig, Maroon, told a smiling Laila, before they hugged. “You’re our hero. We talk about you all the time. We fight for you.”
32a. Charles Glenn … more anthems, please. The Blues love him. The fans love him. More motivation. Mr. Glenn will retire after the postseason… keep him singing, fellows!
33. More proof that something very special is going on here. Something that can’t be explained by stats or analytics. Something that we’ve seen before, like the 2004 Red Sox.
34. Blues owner Tom Stillman and his partners are as good as it gets in professional sports. The Blues, a mid-market team, spend to the salary-cap limit. And Stillman loves the Blues, his players, the employees, and the fans. He really wants to win and is determined to give the fans their Cup.
35. The Blues have a remarkable lineup of talented players, and superb leaders, and colorful personalities, and high-character guys … not just on the ice, but in the Alumni Suite at Enterprise Center. This surreal but very real victory had many of the Blues alums weeping … from Bob Plager to Kelly Chase, to Brett Hull. These men bleed Blue. These men weren’t able to get it done during their time as players — win the Cup — but their support, and their presence, means the world to the current players and fans. It’s a one, huge family that spans multiple generations. The Blues’ players know what this means to the retired Blues, and that’s extra motivation.
36. Alex Steen, a Blue since being acquired from Toronto around Thanksgiving time in 2008. He’s worn The Note for 710 regular season games and 80 postseason contests. He’s an alternate captain. He’s accustomed to a prime role. But when Berube met with Steen and told him how much it would help the cause for Steen to move to the fourth line, Steen readily agreed and set an example for team-first selflessness. Bravo.
37. STL’s so-called fourth line — Steen, Oskar Sundqvist, and Ivan Barbashev — outplayed San Jose’s No. 1 line. And it wasn’t even close. Steen, Sundqvist and Barbashev combined for five goals, two assists, 49 hits, 11 blocks and 13 takeaways in six games. Sundqvist had 24 hits; Barbashev 16. And Sundqvist — so underrated — drew five penalties in the series, the most among Blues players.
38. The Maroon, Tyler Bozak and Robert Thomas line was right up there with Binnington as the top reasons why the Blues won the Dallas series.
39. Brayden Schenn had one goal in the series, but it was a big one, increasing the Blues’ lead to 3-1 in Game 6, after San Jose was pushing hard to tie the score. Schenn, like Steen, was unselfish in agreeing to change roles during the season — moving from center to wing to form a new top line (with Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko) during an extensive and successful stretch. In the San Jose series Schenn led the Blues with 11 takeaways and the team had a 57 percent share of the high-danger shots at 5-on-5.
40. You didn’t think I was going to forget Jaden Schwartz, did you? He leads all NHL players with 10 even-strength goals this postseason, and stung San Jose with four goals in six games, including the hat trick in the 5-0 rout in Game 5. Schwartz is the only player in Blues history to have two hat tricks in a single postseason. After 11 goals in 69-regular season games, Schwartz has 12 scores in 19 postseason games.
41. David Perron has six goals and seven assists (13 points) this postseason. And his timing has been clutch-money; of the six goals four gave the Blues the lead and two tied the game. With Perron on the ice at 5-on-5 play, the Blues outscored San Jose 5-0.
42. Newcomer Ryan O’Reilly was terrific during the regular season, scoring 28 goals (second on the team) and leading the Blues in assists (49) and points (77.) Moreover, his +22 rating was No. 1 among Blues, and RoR was among the best faceoff men in the NHL, winning 57 percent during the regular season. O’Reilly has three goals and 11 assists during the postseason. His 14 points rank second on the team to Schwartz (16 points) and his 11 assists are tied with Alex Pietrangelo for most on the team. After struggling on faceoffs during the Dallas series, O’Reilly rebounded to wn 51.2% against San Jose. Like his linemates, Perron and Sammy Blais, the Blues outscored the Sharks 5-0 at 5-on-5 with O’Reilly on the ice.
43. Sammy Blais led the Blues with 31 hits in the San Jose series. He was especially effective at wearing down the Sharks’ defensemen, who absorbed 98 hits in six games and had a combined 30 giveaways. The Blues’ smart physicality was a huge factor in The Note’s conquest in the WC Final.
44. From Jan. 3 until the end of the regular season, the Blues arguably were the league’s best team at 5-on-5 play, ranking first with a 60 percent share of goals scored, first in controlling high-danger chances (58 percent) and third in scoring-chance share (54.04%.) And that trend has continued in the postseason, with the Blues outscoring three opponents 41-30 at 5-on-5. That’s a mighty strong foundation. But I must say that Boston, the Blues’ opponent in the Stanley Cup Final, is just as robust at 5-on-5.
45. Vladimir Tarasenko had at least a point in each of the six games against San Jose, finishing with three goals and five assists. With eight goals during the 2019 playoffs, Tarasenko now has 30 career postseason scores for the Blues; the only two players in franchise history to have more are Brett Hull (67) and Bernie Federko (35.)
46. One of my favorite stats of the San Jose series: Tarasenko was credited with 16 hits, which was tied for fourth most among Blues. Tarasenko had as many hits on Sharks as Maroon.
47. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has made a few highly visible mistakes this postseason, but I’d rather dwell on all that he’s done well … including two goals, 11 assists for 13 points. The 13 points are the most by a Blues D-man in a single postseason.
48. Blues defensemen have combined for seven goals and 37 assists in the 19 postseason games so far this postseason. I still can’t get over that Robert Bortuzzo goal … magnificent!
49. The Blues are 7-2 on the road this postseason, having outscored home teams 31-22 overall including and 26-13 when playing 5-on-5. The seven wins in a single postseason are tied for sixth in NHL history with a bunch of teams. If the Blues get to eight wins, they’ll be tied for second with the Vancouver (1994), Tampa Bay (2015), Pittsburgh (1992) and Philadelphia (1987.) If the Blues get to nine, they’ll be in second, all-time for most road Ws in one postseason. The Washington Capitals are No. 1 on the all-time list with 10 postseason wins last year while winning their first Stanley Cup.
Thanks for reading …