From out-house to penthouse in 161 days: the sensational story of the 2018-19 Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
If you thought the expansion Vegas Golden Knights were a good story last spring, all you had to do was wait 12 months. The Blues authored a way better tale — almost too good to be true.
The Blues, with 14 Canadian born players in their lineup, claimed the franchise’s first championship in its 52-year history with a perfect road 4-1 road victory in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.
St. Louis was dead last in the league on Jan. 2. Instead of talk of a playoff run, the chatter around the club six months ago centred around which players would be available at the trade deadline.
WATCH | Blues beat Bruins in Game 7 to win Stanley Cup:
But interim head coach Craig Berube’s boys turned it on. They went 30-10-5 to make the playoffs and disposed of the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks in the first three rounds, respectively. They then took care of the Bruins in the seven-game final.
Berube, Binnington bring burst
Berube, a 53-year-old from Calahoo, Alta., and of First Nations descent, took over the Blues on Nov. 19. He required another six weeks for the Blues to get into gear.
The promotion of rookie goalie Jordan Binnington was perhaps the most important ingredient. He was called up on Dec. 9. He had a couple of relief appearances that provided no evidence he would eventually become the Blues saviour.
But his first NHL start on Jan. 7 in Philadelphia against the Flyers was a precursor to the Blues’ success. He blanked Berube’s old team 3-0 and finished the season a remarkable 24-5-1.
Then, he set a record for rookie goalies with 16 more wins in the playoffs. The names Binnington passed en route to his record included Patrick Roy, Ron Hextall, Cam Ward and Matt Murray.
Binnington made a bevy of big saves for the Blues, especially in the first period. But none was more significant than the right pad stop on Bruins left wing Joakim Nordstrom with 11:03 remaining with his team ahead by two goals at the time.
St. Louis centre Brayden Schenn made it 3-0 a few minutes later.
The Blues were so good defensively. Hockey Hall of Famer Larry Robinson and assistant coach Mike Van Ryn did a magnificent job in turning the St. Louis blue line into a world-class group.
The Blues hit hard, forechecked hard and they were unrelentingly diligent in their own end. They always seemed times to come up with a critical blocked shot. And if they didn’t, Binnington was there to block it himself.
They were also overwhelmingly physical. The way the Blues skated, hit and paid attention to defensive detail was reminiscent of Darryl Sutter’s two championships with the Los Angeles Kings in 2011-12 and 2013-14.
It was fitting the Blues won on the road. Ten of their 16 postseason victories came away from St. Louis.
Their entire playoff run was the ultimate team performance, and so naturally, the Conn Smythe Trophy was a toss-up. Binnington, captain Alex Pietrangelo and Ryan O’Reilly were all worthy candidates.
O’Reilly received the nod in the end as he became the first player to score a goal in each of Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
Like Binnington, O’Reilly, of Seaforth, Ont., represents a remarkable story. The man who sports a playoff beard all season long had played for Canada too many times at the IIHF World Championship because his teams in Colorado and Buffalo failed to make the playoffs.
An off-season trade from the Sabres gave O’Reilly a new lease on his hockey life. He now has two world championship titles, a World Cup of Hockey win and a Stanley Cup victory to his name.
The Stanley Cup celebration, as always, was riveting and joyful. Pietrangelo took the Stanley Cup from Bettman and handed it to Jay Bouwmeester, he of 1,184 regular season outings and another 76 in the postseason before he finally won the Stanley Cup.
The Cup made it from Bouwmeester to Alex Steen, the longest-serving member of the Blues, to black ace Chris Thorburn to veteran forward David Perron to O’Reilly to Vladimir Tarasenko to Tyler Bozak to Jaden Schwartz to St. Louis native Patrick Maroon and, eventually, the prized trophy found its way to Berube.
The job was complete. Quite the story, indeed.
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