Game three. The Hand Pass. After the 5-4 overtime loss on Wednesday, if the Blues lose to San Jose in this series, that’s what most of us will remember. Sure, there are more rational people that look at Sharks goalie Martin Jones’ remarkable third period, or the Blues amazing inability to score into an empty net (more on that later), but the prevailing belief in St. Louis is that the Blues lost on a horrible call by garage league officials. And that’s true. It was awful, and it was the last thing we saw. It just makes sense.
We remember Don Denkinger’s terrible call in game six of the 1985 World Series, right? We remember THAT. We don’t choose remember that Royals starter Charlie Liebrandt set down the first fifteen Cardinal hitters, or that Danny Cox failed to get a bunt down with runners at first and second and nobody out in the sixth inning, or that Ozzie Smith followed that up with a double play grounder. We remember that call, even though the Cardinals had multiple opportunities to negate the call. Jack Clark missed a foul popup before Steve Balboni singled. Darrell Porter allowed a passed ball that moved runners to second and third with one out. Dane Iorg got the game winning hit. But we remember Denkinger.
Saints fans know our pain. There was the terrible non-call on pass interference in last season’s NFC Championship game. Nikell Robey-Coleman of the Rams clearly interfered with New Orleans’ Tommy Lee Lewis at the Saints’ six-yard line with 1:49 to go. If the right call is made, the Saints run the clock down and kick the game winning field goal as time runs out. As it was, L.A. had time to move back down the field and kick their own field goal. But we don’t remember the failure of the Saints defense to stop the Rams on that ensuing drive. We don’t recall New Orleans going 2-5 in the red zone, or Drew Brees’ interception in overtime. We remember the call.
My point? Yes, we can and should blame the officials. That’s what we as fans do. But the Blues had plenty of opportunities to put the game away in the third period, and Jones was great. Alex Pietrangelo had a chance to work the puck out of the Blues’ zone with San Jose having pulled the goalie, and iced the puck instead. There were plenty of chances for the Blues players to win the game, including Jaden Schwartz hitting the post with an empty net, but they just didn’t take advantage. Fox 2’s Mike Columbo tweeted “According to @morehockeystats, the #StlBlues have failed to score a goal in seven opportunities against an empty net in these playoffs. In the regular season they ranked third-worst in the NHL scoring nine goals in 25 opportunities.”
As I tweeted after the game, there have been a lot of weird things that have happened to the Blues in their history that took games and seasons and eras out of the players hands. Ralston-Purina leaves team at the NHL’s doorstep, causing the Blues to miss an entire draft. Owner Harry Ornest trades the best players (Joe Mullen, Mike Liut) to save costs. Ron Caron trades a 2nd line (Geoff Courtnall, Cliff Ronning, Sergio Momesso) for Garth Butcher and Dan Quinn, disassembling a Stanley Cup contender. Judge Edward Houston awards Scott Stevens to New Jersey as compensation (punishment) for the Blues signing of Brendan Shanahan. Nick Kypreos takes out Grant Fuhr in the first round of the 1996 playoffs, taking away the goalie of a potential Stanley Cup team captained by Wayne Gretzky. Goalie Roman Turek inexplicably blows up during the 2001 Western Conference finals against Colorado. In 2003, the team takes a 3-1 series lead against Vancouver, but is ravaged by the flu and loses in seven. After the lockout, owner Bill Laurie strips the team down before selling it, trading captain and Hall of Famer Chris Pronger, who subsequently leads three different franchises to The Finals.
Of course, you had the Doug Gilmour trade because he was in legal trouble (he became a Hall of Famer, too). You had Anheuser-Busch desiring to purchase the team and build an arena right where Busch Stadium III is now, but the owner of the Post-Dispatch pulling her support for Mayor Vincent Schoemehl if he allowed the Cupples Complex to be torn down for parking. You had Bob Gassoff, Barclay Plager, Dan Kelly and Doug Wickenheiser all leaving us too soon. Top overall pick Erik Johnson tearing up his knee in while getting out of a golf cart, 50 goal scorer Wayne Babych getting his shoulder torn up in a fight, Brendan Shanahan having an affair with teammate/linemate/best friend Craig Janney’s wife. In 1999, five years after tampering with Stevens in an attempt to get him back, the league found out about it and docked the Blues a couple of more number one picks and $1.4 million. And now, The Hand Pass. This is being a Blues fan. This is the tortured existence of fans that bleed blue. So many things have happened that the team’s players, let alone fans, don’t have a chance to respond to. Perhaps the Blues WILL win this series. There are a lot of confident people out there. But I’ve seen this movie before. The scenes are different, but the ending always seems to be the same.
Is it RIGHT to blame the officials? Probably not. But does it FEEL right? It sure does. Game three. Wednesday night. Enterprise Center. Just another example of the Blues being cursed ever since Scotty Bowman left.