The St. Louis Blues are in the Stanley Cup Final. I repeat, the St. Louis Blues are in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final – and, just as we were on March 29 when they clinched a playoff spot, we’re a little surprised.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) March 30, 2019
Why, you may ask?
Well, before games were played Jan. 3 – yes, Jan. 3, 2019 – the team from Missouri was last in the NHL and 11 points behind the Anaheim Ducks for the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Now, St. Louis is one of two teams that will compete for the Cup.
What a long strange trip this season has been for the Blues:
Before we can even start with how this happened, we need to go all the way back to November with the firing of coach Mike Yeo and the promotion of associate Craig Berube. “Chief” took over a team that was 7-9-3.
At the time, people thought Joel Quenneville, who was let go by the Chicago Blackhawks two weeks earlier, would be tapped, given that he had previously coached the Blues for parts of eight seasons (1996-2004). Nope. Quenneville was enjoying tailgating with Bears fans and looked content to be off the bench, so Berube was chosen to fill in and finish out what was looking like a lost season.
If things couldn’t get any worse for St. Louis, teammates fought at practice. Not a good look for a team well outside the playoff race and losers of eight of their last 11.
Robert Bortuzzo and Zach Sanford scrap during Blues hockey practice today. The Blues have lost 10 of its past 14 games #fightSZN @BizNasty2point0 @ryanwhitney6 @RearAdBsBlog @MikeGrinnell_ @spittinchiclets pic.twitter.com/ijWXgtQQEE
— Avery (@Avery_188) December 10, 2018
ch Sanford, reflected on the incident March 25 with Blues radio analyst Joey Vitale on “The Late Shift”
“It’s something that happens in our game. It’s nothing I’m proud of and something that I don’t want to be doing,” he said. “But it had nothing to do with (Sanford). We’re good friends and it was just a sequence of events that led to something unfortunate.”
As stated above, the season was looking grim on this date. Before games started that Thursday night, St. Louis was 15-18-4 (34 points) with a minus-21 goal differential and dead last in the league.
That night, the Blues went out and beat the reigning Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals 5-2. Sure, one game doesn’t turn the tide, but maybe Bortuzzo dropping the gloves with Tom Wilson – who was suspended earlier in the season for 14 games for a dirty hit on Oskar Sundqvist – played a role.
St. Louis recalled 25-year-old goaltender Jordan Binnington from San Antonio (AHL). Two days later, he made his first start of the season and his career. The rest has been history.
Beginning with his 3-0 shutout of the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 7, the 2011 draft pick has posted a 21-5-1 record with an impressive 1.78 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
Jordan Binnington of the @StLouisBlues became the 35th goaltender in League history to register a shutout in his first career NHL start and the eighth to do so in the past 15 years. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/XipaVcRYIQ
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) January 8, 2019
Jordan Binnington notched his first NHL start and shutout on the same day he was announced @theAHL player of the week.
You could say last week was pretty good to him 👍 pic.twitter.com/R4hUT5UHav
— San Antonio Rampage (@sarampage) January 10, 2019
Binnington, who eventually took over the No. 1 spot from Jake Allen, has had his name thrown into the Calder Trophy and, dare we say, Vezina Trophy debates. He has earned Player of the Week honors twice this season (second star on Jan. 14; first star on Feb. 11) and was the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for February.
Jan. 23-Feb. 19
Twenty-eight days. In just 28 calendar days, the Blues changed their season.
After losing 4-3 to the Kings on Jan. 21, St. Louis went on a tear, winning a franchise-record 11 consecutive games. After going from a game under. 500 (21-22-5) to 10 games over (32-22-5), the Blues were suddenly in a playoff spot and poised to make the postseason for the 42nd time in franchise history.
The streak included wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning (1-0 in overtime) and Toronto Maple Leafs (3-2 in overtime) and back-to-back victories over the Nashville Predators (3-2 in regulation and 5-4 in overtime), who, as of now, look to be the Blues’ first-round opponent in the playoffs.
Over the course of those 11 games, St. Louis went 493 minutes and 42 seconds without trailing. Rookie sensation Binnington won nine in a row – tied for fifth-most by a rookie netminder in NHL history. The team’s points leader, Ryan O’Reilly, scored 12 points. Vladimir Tarasenko notched an awe-inspiring 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists). Tarasenko, whose name was in the trade rumor mill in the beginning of January, was named the NHL’s third star of the month for February.
Things were looking up even more when Brayden Schenn was activated March 6 from injured reserve after missing the previous six games with an upper-body injury. Just a day later, things took a turn and the Cinderella season looked to be in peril.
Leading goal-scorer Tarasenko suffered an upper-body injury during a 4-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in which he scored the 28th goal of his season. The team announced he would be out for 10 days. The Blues went 1-2-2 in the five games he missed and were outscored 13-11, with five of the team’s goals coming in the lone victory, 5-1 over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Blues got healthy. Tarasenko returned, and as if in direct correlation, the team won four in a row, including victories over the Lightning and the Vegas Golden Knights. Just three nights before Tarasenko’s return, David Perron returned to the lineup after missing 24 games with an upper-body injury. In the seven games since his return, he has seven points (four goals, three assists). He also closed out a remarkable streak in his fourth game back, March 21 against the Detroit Red Wings.
David Perron recorded the fourth instance in @StLouisBlues franchise history of a player recording at least one point in 17 consecutive appearances, joining Brett Hull (25 GP in 1991-92, 20 GP in 1989-90) and Blake Dunlop (19 GP in 1981-82). #NHLStats #DETvsSTL pic.twitter.com/yvSRpeYMU2
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 22, 2019
Welcome to the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, St. Louis! You did it!
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) March 30, 2019
Despite losing to the New York Rangers on March 29, the Blues clinched when the Arizona Coyotes lost to the Colorado Avalanche in a shootout.
Since that key Jan. 3 date, St. Louis went 30-10-5 to close out the regular season and become the seventh team since expansion in 1967 (which was also when the Blues joined the NHL) to make the postseason after being in last place after New Year’s Day. Those 30 wins were also the second-most in the NHL since Jan. 1.
It took 49 years – or exactly 17,908 days since May 10, 1970 – but the St. Louis Blues are back in the Stanley Cup Final. As it so hapens, the last franchise they faced in the Stanley Cup Final is the same one they’ll face this time – the Boston Bruins.
The moment that’s a half-century in the making! pic.twitter.com/Ws9k3WrYxV
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) May 22, 2019
After defeating the Winnipeg Jets in six games, the Dallas Stars in seven and the San Jose Sharks in six in the West playoffs, the Blues are just four wins away from the first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.
Every season has a Cinderella team, a team with an amazing story. Is St. Louis the team this year? So far, the glass slipper has fit. The question now is: will this run continue all the way to lifting the Cup? Only time will tell, but either way, the Blues are grateful they’re not dead last anymore.
Author: Jackie Spiegel