The St. Louis Blues are Stanley Cup Champions. As someone who grew up in St. Louis, it is impossible to convey how bizarre it was to type those words. But my personal disbelief does not make it any less true. For those who aren’t familiar with the Blues or with hockey in general, let’s discuss the most incredible comeback in National Hockey League history.
Worst to First
On January 3, which is around the midway point of the NHL season, the Blues were the worst team in the league. Not bad. Not ugly. The worst team in the league. They had fired their head coach and were considering trading anyone and everyone. A firesale and franchise reset was a genuine possibility.
Then, on Jan. 7, rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington made his debut. He shutout the Philadelphia Flyers, and quickly established himself as the team’s lifeline. Then he stole the starting job, and posted incredible numbers for the remainder of the season. He finished with a 24-5-1 record, with a .927 save percentage and a league leading 1.89 goals against average. That was enough to earn him a spot as a Calder Trophy finalist (for rookie of the year), despite only playing half the campaign.
But it wasn’t just Binnington. Under interim head coach Craig Berube, the Blues found their confidence again. Superstar scorer Vladimir Tarasenko found his touch, and began playing his best hockey after one of his worst career months. Oskar Sundqvist, an afterthought entering the season, asserted himself as an integral part of the team. And Jay Bouwmeester, who according to some reports was one bad game away from being cut this season, revitalized his veteran career and looked like a defenseman ten years his junior.
In addition, the Blues had a new rallying cry. The night before Binnington’s debut, some of the players attended a speakeasy in Philadelphia to watch the Eagles play a playoff game. A rowdy fan at the establishment kept demanding that they “play Gloria,” a reference to a 1982 late-disco hit by the late Laura Branigan. The bar eventually caved, and a legend was born.
With a new goaltender, a new victory song, and rejuvenated energy, the Blues started doing something they hadn’t all season: winning. They won and won and won. They couldn’t stop winning. In fact, the set a franchise record for consecutive wins, with an 11-game streak that dated from Feb. 2 to Feb. 21.
It was enough to instill a little hope in Blues fans, but they knew an uphill battle was still ahead. Thankfully, the other teams in their division cooled off when the Blues got hot, and they finished in third place in the division, one spot away from first. They then moved on to beat the second place team, the Winnipeg Jets, in round one of the playoffs.
It was an unprecedented turnaround, as no team had ever been last in the league that late in the season and gone on to win a playoff round. But for the Blues, it was just a taste of things to come.
Stanley, Meet Gloria
It wasn’t always a smooth ride, but the Blues made their way through the next two rounds and appeared in their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970. Ironically, they would meet the same team in both appearances: the Boston Bruins.
This time, the Blues weren’t a fledgling NHL expansion team lined up as a sacrifice to the original six conference. They were a legitimate threat on a hot streak, but Boston was still a tall order. Their goaltender, Tuukka Rask, was unbeatable throughout the playoffs, and their top three stars were such a formidable tandem they were known collectively as “the Perfection Line.”
The Blues had come too far to be denied, though. It took seven games and three road wins, but on Wednesday night, they captured the franchise’s very first Stanley Cup Championship. This was a title the city waited over half a century for, and Saturday’s parade is expected to have a turnout near half a million people.
It is a well deserved championship for a city that has experienced some recent sports hardships. The Blues are Stanley Cup champions. Enjoy this, St. Louis!