With a 5-1 win over San Jose, the St. Louis Blues have advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1970, eliminating the Sharks in six games. My initial observations…
-I’ve had the good fortune of being around the Blues organization since I was an usher way back in 1980-’81, and since I started in radio in 1983 have had the chance to get to know Bob Plager, Bernie Federko, Kelly Chase, Brett Hull and so many more. I’m thrilled for those people that literally spilled blood and tears trying to get the Blues to where they are now. Along the way, as an usher, I got to meet lots of fans, too. And being able to see the look on fans faces as they counted down the final seconds of game six was amazing. I will argue that the Blues fan base is more passionate than any other in town. The fact that they show up in such great numbers for prospect camps and the start of training camp exemplifies that. They’ve wanted to see a Stanley Cup Final for a long time, and now get the chance to see it.
-Many times…most of the time…when a team makes a coaching change, they get false hope from the emotional bounce of the new guy. Craig Berube’s success was a process. The club started 2-4-1 under the new coach and went 10-11-3 in their first 24 under him. But then they took off and underwent a dramatic personality change. A group that admitted they were mentally fragile early in the season became mentally tough. The pinnacle of that came after the Blues allowed San Jose to tie game three in the final minute of regulation before the officials gave the Sharks the win on an uncalled hand pass in overtime. After that point, the Blues outscored the Sharks 12-2. That’s a testament to the mental toughness that Berube instilled.
-The Blues have a great mix of veterans and youngsters. Obviously rookie goalie Jordan Binnington is the biggest key. Sammy Blais, Robert Thomas and the injured Vince Dunn all have played key roles in these playoffs. And veterans like Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko and David Perron all are playing at a high level. This team always talks about how much they like and sacrifice for each other. A franchise that has had it’s share of cliques over the years doesn’t have them now, and that’s a huge reason for their success.
-Chairman Tom Stillman made sure that G.M. Doug Armstrong had every resource available to help the team win. Trades for Brayden Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly over the last two off-seasons were big ticket pickups, as were the free agent signings of Tyler Bozak and David Perron. When the Blues determined that free agent goalie Chad Johnson wasn’t the answer, they waived him not knowing if they’d have to pay him $1.5 million to play in the minors. When Armstrong determined that Mike Yeo wouldn’t be able to turn things around, ownership agreed to pay him not to coach for a year and a half. Stillman’s leadership style is what championship organizations have, so it’s no surprise that the Blues will play for the title.
Destiny has an amazing way of making sports dramatic. Boston/New England has had teams that have beaten St. Louis in the 2001 Super Bowl (Patriots over Rams), 2004 and 2013 World Series (Red Sox over Cardinals) and of course 1970 Stanley Cup (Bruins over Blues). In addition to that, Bruins alternate captain David Backes was the Blues captain from 2011-2012 until his departure as a free agent after the 2016 playoffs. Backes is still great friends with many members of the Blues, so that’ll be a story line. And finally, the Blues and Bruins both have been able to sustain success in making the playoffs despite not having real high draft picks. Both franchises had long playoff stretches; St. Louis going to the post-season for 25 straight years until 2006 and Boston going 29 straight years from 1968 through 1996.
It’s surreal. Unbelievable. It’s something I thought I’d never see. And now your St. Louis Blues are four wins away from a Stanley Cup Championship. Lets Go Blues.