Bernie On The Big Blue Wave: This Is Their City, This Is Their Time.

The evening began with Brett Hull’s primal scream — Let’s Go Blues!!! — that could be heard all the way back to 1967, and the inception of our town’s beloved hockey franchise.

In between there were two money goals from Ryan O’Reilly, another big goal from Vladimir Tarasenko, timely saves from the cryogenic goaltender Jordan Binnington, inspiring play from the maniacal fourth line, and a career-best performance by team captain Alex Pietrangelo.

At the end of 60 minutes in a twister, a full house at Enterprise Center sang “Gloria” in full throat, then took the celebration and the song out into the streets for a party.

For the St. Louis Blues and their allegiant fans, Monday’s 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins was nothing short of a landmark victory. The Blues confronted trouble spots with head-on determination to level this best-of-seven series 2-2.

There are more monumental conquests ahead, of course. More work, stress, pressure and physical depletion. But for now, the full-glory spectacle of June 3, 2019 will fill in a coveted, elusive piece of history: the Blues’ first home victory in a Stanley Cup Final.

It was a mere 51-plus years in the making — this emotional payoff, this starry night, this beautiful reward, this proof of how the abundant, everlasting love of a team and its fans can raise the spirit of an entire city.

Because I’m fired up, I must quote a Springsteen lyric: It’s been a long time comin’, my dear … it’s been a long time comin’ but now it’s here.

Hell, I could have just quoted Pietrangelo.

“It’s been a long time, right?” he said after the game, delivering a widely distributed bit of precious perspective that resonated with every Blues fan.

The Blues fans that have dreamed and cried and danced and hoped and prayed and mended.

“The city’s been waiting a long time for this,” Pietrangelo said. “We weren’t too proud of last game, but you could see the buzz around the city. Driving to the game, it’s pretty fun to see. You got the Cardinals guys (in the crowd), sitting up there too.

“That’s what this city’s about. Great sports city. Underrated sports city in my opinion. The fans are great. They never gave up on us all year. Didn’t give up in the playoffs. We’ve been down. They just keep on cheering, keep on supporting us. And we’ll put on the best effort we can for them.”

Bless you, boys.

By capturing the moment — and Game 4 — anything is possible for the Blues now. Everything is possible, including the dream-quest vision of that parade down Market Street.

Only two wins away now — the two hardest wins that any Blues team will ever have to work for. And if this thriller goes the distance, to the max-out seventh game, two of the three battles will be waged in Boston’s North Station.

And that’s OK. From the beginning of this remarkable and unforgettable hockey campaign, it was never easy for the worst-to-first Blues … it isn’t supposed to be easy for the Blues.

Ever.

This condition, after all, was forged by their history. Their DNA, if you will.It is marked by difficulty, turbulence, adversity, heartbreak, near ruin, knockdowns, rebounds, recovery, confusion, chaos, cruelty, resilience, character — and rising again and again again in the yearning for redemption.

This season has been a picture book of time, of familiar scenes that have played out through the years. Scenes that in the past have have delighted and disappointed on the way to an abrupt ending. But maybe it will be different in 2019. Maybe this is the time when all of that pain will be washed away by the flowing of happy tears and a river of champagne.

The Blues, closer than ever before, are getting some help from their friends … the generations of fans … the pride, and the emotional power, of an entire community. This is their city. This is their time.

BLUE NOTES

1. Given the high-stakes magnitude of Game 4, Pietrangelo has never been better.

This was the defining game of his career, showcasing all that he does so well for the Blues. Petro assisted on the Tarasenko score that put the Blues ahead 2-1. He assisted on the winning goal by O’Reilly in the third period — adeptly reading the play to see RoR racing in to position himself for a rebound.

Pietrangelo was a +3. He had five shots, three takeaways and competed for 29 minutes and 37 seconds … virtually half the game.

With the two assists, Pietrangelo has 13 this postseason. That’s a new record for most assists in a postseason by a Blues’ defenseman. And his 15 points are the most by a STL defenseman in a single postseason.

2. The Blues’ fourth line of Ivan Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist and Alex Steen competed with focused fury and owned Boston’s top line in G4.

Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak didn’t muster a point. And in about 11 minutes of 5-on-5 matchup ice time against STL’s No. 4 line, the Bruins’ No. 1 line managed only four shots on goal, and one high-danger chance.

Barbashev (9), Steen (5) and Sundqvist (4) combined for 15 hits in the game.

“I’ll tell you what, Sundqvist’s line was unreal tonight,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “They did a great job against Bergeron all night. They were out there almost every shift against Bergeron’s line. I thought they did a helluva job.”

3. The defense pairing of Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester also played a major role in locking down Boston’s top line.

Parayko and Bouwmeester were matched against the No. 1 line for 10+ minutes at 5-on-5. The tight coverage didn’t give the Bruins’ big dogs much room to make mayhem. And the pattern continues. Boston’s No. 1 line has produced three goals and seven assists in the series. But all three goals came on the power play, or when skating shorthanded. At 5-on-5, the three dangerous Bruins are collectively a minus 9.

Coach Bruce Cassidy ain’t happy. He brushed aside questions about the Bruins playing shorthanded on defense because of injuries to Matt Grzelcyk and Zdeno Chara.

“Personally, I think our forwards got to do a way better job,” Cassidy said. “The onus has to go on them. They’ve got to pull their weight in terms of puck support and helping out the (defense), finishing some plays. We had some lines tonight with very few shot attempts. To rely on a 2-1 game, we can win those games, but they’re going to have to pull their weight, especially if these guys are out. That’s just the way it is. That’s the hand we’re dealt.”

4. On Vlad Tarasenko: He has 33 postseason goals since 2014. Only Alexander Ovechkin has scored more, 33, over that time. But Ovie did it in 70 postseason games between 2014-19. Tarasenko has played in 66 since ‘14, with at least two more to go this postseason.

Brett Hull (67) and Bernie Federko (35) are the only Blues with more career postseason goals than Tarasenko. No. 91 has six goals and five assists for 11 points in his last 10 games. He has at least one point in nine of the last 10.

It’s endearing the way that Tarasenko has embraced the Blues’ pursuit of the Stanley Cup because of what it would mean to the fans and the community.

“Every year, you keep hearing, ‘Let’s go win the Cup.’ Even after last year,” Tarasenko said after Game 4.  “People start believing in us. We feel it. It gives us a really big emotional boost. We go around this city and see ‘Let’s go Blues’ everywhere. It’s unbelievable times.”

5. It’s appropriate for Ryan O’Reilly to score the first and third goals in Game 4. 

Huge goals … one early, one late… huge goals that charged, then recharged the Blues energy and momentum.  That’s because O’Reilly has been there, a strong presence, for the entire season. Even when the early-season Blues were bad and searching for an identity, we knew what to expect from O’Reilly every time out: hard work, honest work, and consistency. He’s been there from the beginning…a player to count on. RoR has two goals and five assists and is a +2 in his last five season games.

6. So much for the theory that Binnington was due to crash after his unfortunate Game 3. 

In Game 4 Binnington stopped 23 of 25 shots overall (.920 save percentage), made 18 saves on 19 shots at 5-on-5 (.947) and denied two of three high-danger chances.  Binnington is now 7-2 after after a Blues’ postseason defeat, with a .933 save percentage and 1.86 goals-against average.

According to ESPN.com, Binnington is the sixth goalie in league history to notch seven wins after a loss during a single postseason. And he’s one victory from tying the NHL record for most postseason wins by a rookie goalie; right now that distinction is shared by Patrick Roy (1986 Montreal), Ron Hextal (1987  Philadelphia), Cam Ward (2006 Carolina) and Matt Murray (2016 Pittsburgh.) 

7. What was it that Binnington said after last night’s win?

“Same old.” 

In a more expansive comment, he later added:  “I just like to stay calm and take care of my job. I don’t think too much of it.”

The man is cold-blooded …

Assuming that real blood actually courses through his veins.

8. How about the Chief’s keen instincts in making personnel decisions?

First, Berube inserted forward Zach Sanford into the lineup for Game 3. Filling in for Sundqvist on the fourth line, Sanford was a positive presence for the Blues in a five-goal loss. Then, Berube moved Sanford up to the second line to join O’Reilly and David Perron.  Second line?  Heck, as he reentered the live competition for the third game of the Stanley Cup Final (June 1), Sanford  hadn’t played since Game 3 of the first-round series against Winnipeg back on April 14. But Chief knows best. In two games vs. the Bruins, Sanford has two assists, five shots, seven hits and is a +3. His assist in Game 4 was a biggie; it created O’Reilly’s wraparound goal for a 1-0 STL lead less than a minute into the fray.

9. With a power play loaded with snipers and a penalty-killing unit patrolled by menacing attack dogs, the Bruins have deeply wounded the Blues on special teams.

At least the Blues finally followed through on their promise to stay out of the penalty box; Boston had two (unsuccessful) power plays in Game 4 after scoring quadruple PP goals in Game 3.  Even after going 0-for-2 on the power play Monday night,the Bruins boast of 34.8% PP success rate during the postseason. But the PK may be even more formidable; over the last 11 games Boston has snuffed 37 of 39 power plays for a kill rate of 94.8% … absurd. And in Game 4 the Bruins caused high anxiety among the Blues’ patrons with a short-handed goal that tied the scrum at 2-2 in the second period.

10. The Blues, however, are controlling the action during 5-on-5 play. 

At 5/5 situations in Game 4, the Blues had a 62 percent Corsi possession rating… had a 28-19 advantage in shots on goal (59.6%) …. had 56.2 percent of the scoring chances (18-14) … had 60 percent of the high-danger chances (6-4) … and outscored the Bruins 3-1.

In prevailing in two of the last three games, the Blues at 5-on-5 have had 57.2 percent of the shots on goal … 58 percent of the scoring chances … 62.5 percent of goals scored on scoring chances (5-3) … 60.4 percent of the high-danger chances … 71.4 percent of the high-danger goals scored (5-2.)

11. HOT TAKE, but with truth baked in: If the Blues can stay away from the penalty box, they should win this thing.

12. I think it’s been overlooked, so … Brayden Schenn had a helluva game in G4. 

Schenn banked the empty-net goal to close it out, assisted on Tarasenko’s goal that put the home team ahead 2-1 … posted five shots on goal … slammed into Bruins for seven hits… and won 12 of 18 faceoffs (that’s a whopping-good 67 percent.) As part of that faceoff collection Schenn won seven of nine in the offensive zone (78%). Fantastic.  Schenn has four goals and seven assists this postseason, but his best work isn’t quantified by raw-count points. Schenn leads the Blues with 28 takeaways and rebounds created (nine) … he’s second in rush attempts (six) … and is second in most hits (72) to Barbashev (74.) Robust all-around play right there.

13. Welcome back, Vince Dunn. 

The smooth-gliding defenseman made an immediate impact in his return to action after missing the previous six games with an injured jaw. Dunn had an assist but the quality of his work is best depicted by these numbers: when the Blues had Dunn on the ice at even strength, they outshot the Bruins 9-1 and had an 8-0 advantage in scoring chances.

14. No surprise, but Jon Hamm is doing a wonderful job of repping St. Louis on national TV. No surprise there. He’s a devoted STL sports fan. But unlike many celebrity fan, Hamm actually knows the game, understands Blues’ history, and can relate to the lifelong experience of every Blues fan everywhere.

I’m out of words… so I’m outta here.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie