For most of their 52 years the Blues left their fans feeling blue during the NHL postseason. It had been a lovesick existence for the team and its people: full of hope, followed by heartache and regret and a vow to go through it all over again — painful as it may be.
No, W.C. Handy didn’t compose his 1914 classic “St. Louis Blues,” as a reflection on hockey heartbreak. But man, his mood and the vibe fit. The Blues became an emblem of that song.
Through the decades, our beloved but bedeviled hockey team was perhaps best defined by this Handy lyric: “I got the St. Louis blues, blues as I can be.”
The sorrow was washed away on Wednesday night, cleansed by a flow of beer and champagne in the Blues’ locker room after a 4-1 victory in Game 7 in Boston. It was an epic achievement that gave this miraculous team, and our proud town, a chance to hold the Stanley Cup in a long, deep embrace.
I’ll give myself up. I wept late last night when watching Darren Pang interview Blues winger Pat Maroon, the rugged St. Louisan from South County who understands the excruciating experience of being a Blues fan.
“It means the world to me,” Maroon told Pang. “To bring it back home to St. Louis, it can’t be better, being from St. Louis and being with those fans when I was young.
“Even when I played in the National Hockey League for other teams, I still watched those Blues and how they suffered and how those fans suffered.
“Not anymore. We did it, baby.”
The Blues did it for their fans, generations of fans, the most loyal fans in the nation. They did it for the 668 skaters and goalies that have worn The Note in a game since the birth of the franchise in 1967. They did it for the Plagers, the Sutters, and the broadcasting Kellys. They did it for Bernie Federko, Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Barret Jackman, Garry Unger, Red Berenson, Keith Tkachuk, Cujo, Joey Mullen, and Mike Liut. They did it for the dear souls departed including Barclay Plager, Bob Gassoff, Doug Wickenheiser, Mark Reeds, Pavol Demitra, and Dan Kelly.
They did it for all of the youthful St. Louis-area hockey players that have NHL ambitions, hoping to follow in the path of Maroon, Joey Vitale, Matthew and Brady Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, and the other youngbloods who have gone from the STL to the NHL. And they can fantasize about hoisting the Cup one day.
The Blues did it for great grandparents, grandparents, mothers and fathers, boomers, millennials, Gen X, teens, kids, toddlers and babies — everyone that has smiled at wins, and frowned at losses. They did it for Laila Anderson, and Charles Glenn, and Tom Calhoun, and every devoted non-playing employee that’s kept this franchise going for more than a half-century.
The Blues did a valuable community service by taking back the name “Stanley” and restoring it to its proper legacy — in a a place of honor. What the heck am I talking about here?
There was Stan Musial the most hallowed athlete in St. Louis history. There was another Stan, the hated scoundrel who owned a football team and knifed St. Louis fans in the back in his greed for LA cash and status. That piece of dirt doesn’t matter now. That stain doesn’t exist. Stan Musial, and Lord Stanley — hey, they’re our guys. Stan the Man, and Stanley the Cup. That’s St. Louis.
And really, the Blues did it for themselves. Did it for each other. Did it for owner Tom Stillman. They did it for president of hockey operations Doug Armstrong, who put them together on the Blues’ roster. And they did it for coach Craig Berube, who transformed them into a team of brothers.
Given the jagged history of the franchise, the Blues did this the only way that made sense. By having the fewest points in the National Hockey League in early January, and climbing out of a steep, dark and cold valley — and into the warmth of the June sun.
By following a captain, Alex Pietrangelo, who became a true leader and recast an image that will make him a St. Louis sports hero forever.
By leaning on the pride and work ethic and the inspirational example set by Ryan O’Reilly — a constant source of energy and light, even during the darkest days of the season. O’Reilly, unfairly maligned as a loser in Buffalo, won the Conn Smythe trophy as the best player in the postseason. And he skated with the Stanley Cup … a double-winner at the sport’s most prestigious level in his first season with the Blues.
The Blues got it done by going on the road to conquer the hockey teams in Winnipeg, Dallas, San Jose and Boston. By leaving town on missions that produced 10 wins in 13 road games — unbelievable — after tripping and skidding repeatedly at home during the postseason.
No team in NHL history has won The Cup after having a lost postseason record at home. A team that several months ago was viewed as being short on competitive character displayed more character than any team’s won a Stanley Cup.
The Blues had to be perfect in winning three consecutive games in Boston. (Games 2, 5 and 7.) Lose one, and they’re done. Given the searing pressure engulfing the Blues, the Cup takeover was extraordinary.
The Blues won the sacred prize by finding their Kurt Warner: goaltender Jordan Binnington. He set an NHL rookie record for most postseason wins (16.)
To capture the Stanley Cup the Blues had to steal away with three victories in Boston during the best-of-seven SC Final, and Binnington pulled it off by stopping 91 of 95 shots (.958 save percentage) in the three triumphs at TD Garden. He was simply remarkable in Game 7, breaking the Bruins’ will to fight with money saves, impossible saves. Binner’s 32 saves in Game 7 were the most ever by a rookie goalie in the game that secured the Stanley Cup since the NHL began compiling shot statistics in 1955.
We’ve heard the phrase “total team effort” a million times. But it really applies to this Blues team. In 26 postseason games the Blues got at least one goal from 20 different players, and 21 players had at least one point.
The Blues blasted their way to the NHL title with crunching, punishing hits that wore opponents down … and out. The Blues were maniacs, registering 819 hits and blocking 353 shots in 26 games.
This was a team of immense competitive character. This was never going to be easy. In all four of their series, the Blues were tied 2-2 through the first four games … meaning that each series could have gone the other way. But the Blues had a champion’s response, going 8-2 in the late stages of each series (Games 5, 6, and 7.)
This amazing, long-awaited seizing of the Stanley Cup required 108 games in all: 108 in the regular season, 26 in the playoffs. No NHL team has ever competed in more games in a single campaign.
“We knew it was there, we knew we had the pieces,”O’Reilly said at the post-game podium. “But it was so educational to see how tough it is and how hard you have to work and how even-keel you have to be to keep coming every day and just keep punching at it.
“It was always there that we can do it, but to actually do it, it’s exhausting. I’m exhausted.”
According to the NHL, the Blues set league records for yearly playoff appearances (42), playoff series (72) and playoff games (391) before winning the Cup for the first time.
We see the Blues as a team that went from worst to first this season. And that was special. But really, it was more than that.
The Blues went from 1967 to first, and this incredible journey took 51 years, eight months and one day since the franchise played its first regular-season game on Oct. 11 of ‘67.
The Blues have reached the promised land. And this, without question, is the most substantial triumph in the history of St. Louis professional sports.
The St. Louis Blues are blue no more … blues as in sadness .
Thanks for reading…