National Hockey League

Clinching that first trip to the Finals was an amazing night

I vaguely remember the Blues being in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1970 when I was seven years old, but I certainly don’t remember how they got there that season, let alone in their first two seasons.  So last May 21 was one of the coolest days I’ve ever had.  As a lifelong Blues fan that lived through plenty of heartbreak, I was convinced that the franchise was cursed.  There was a litany of evidence to support my claim.  But with the Blues up 3-2 over the Sharks in the Western Conference Finals last year, I was actually quite confident that the Blues would advance to the Cup Finals in game six.

There was the fact that they had won two in a row after being screwed by a no hand-pass call in game three.  That resilience cemented my belief that a team that admitted it was emotionally fragile in November was now as mentally tough as any playoff team ever.  There was the knowledge that Jaden Schwartz was so hot, having delivered a hat trick in a 5-0 disembowelment of the Sharks in game 5.  And there was the fact that the Blues physical play took such a toll on the older, smaller Sharks that three of their best players…Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson…wouldn’t play because they had been battered into submission through five games of Blues relentless, clean hitting.

The crowd at the beginning of the game was as electric as we’ve ever heard at Enterprise Center, and the din grew louder as David Perron scored 1:16 in.  Vladimir Tarasenko scored a power play goal before the period was out, and the way Jordan Binnington was going, that did it.

It was so cool to walk over to the broadcast booth and see the excitement of Chris Kerber and Joey Vitale.  Bob Plager, who couldn’t watch the games,   strolled around the perimeter of the top level behind us.  Being able to watch him was priceless.

It was so much fun to sit with Michelle Smallmon, who’s so proud of St. Louis and her teams, and who had…like every Blues fan…put so much emotion into the franchise for her entire life.  All the lucky stuff we had going on; sitting in the same chairs, wearing lucky clothes (Blues shoes and socks for me) and not saying it was over until it was over, was all in play.

With the Sharks so compromised, when Tyler Bozak scored to make it 4-1 at the 13:05 mark of the third period, we decided to head downstairs and get the feel of a Western Conference Championship from the vantage point of the crowd.  It was amazing.  As the seconds ticked down, the crowd got louder and louder, and reached a frenzy when Ivan Barbashev scored an empty netter with 2:15 to go.  To be able to count those seconds down surrounded by passionate Blues fans was an event I’ll never forget.

Obviously, winning the Cup was awesome, but the Blues won that one, as we know, in Boston.  To see them just hammer the Sharks (and probably close the window of opportunity for that group to win), was amazing.

There really isn’t anything like that first time.  My introduction to great baseball was the 1982 Cardinals (I’ll tell that story soon).  My favorite Rams moment was the 77-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce on the first offensive play of the first NFL playoff game ever played in St. Louis.  Seeing Tiger Woods compete in person for the first time at the 2018 PGA Championship was a memory I’ll always cherish.  Mark McGwire was the first bigtime Cardinal slugger I ever watched, so seeing him break the Cardinals and then the MLB single season home run records was great.

But for me, I’m not sure there will ever be anything like last season’s Blues.  I literally spent my whole life hoping that franchise would win a championship.  And to be honest, I still haven’t come down from it.  When I go to my grave, that night will be one of the favorites I’ve ever had.