On Wednesday night in Boston, the St. Louis Blues made history. For the first time in their 52-year history, they won the Stanley Cup.
The Blues are Stanley Cup champions thanks to the amazing play of unflappable rookie goalie Jordan Binnington, and the dominance of Ryan O’Reilly. It was that tandem that led a team that once was last overall in January to their first ever championship.
In winning Game Seven over the host Bruins 4-1 at a stunned TD Garden, the Blues became the first ever Stanley Cup champion to have a losing home record and win the most prestigious trophy. They did it the hard way by taking three of four road games in Boston to make history.
The hockey version of the Road Warriors finished their Cup run 10-3 away from St. Louis. By comparison, they went 6-7 at home. It doesn’t matter how you get it done. As other great former champions can testify like the ’95 Devils, ’00 Devils and more recently the ’18 Capitals, it’s indeed possible to be successful in the NHL Playoffs by winning 10 games on the road.
Every path to a championship is different. In every round, St. Louis found itself with a unique challenge. From edging the higher seeded Winnipeg Jets in six to having to go two overtimes before hometown hero Pat Maroon delivered the second round series clincher, they worked their tails off every round. They wore down the Sharks in the Western Conference Final to prevail in six. Then, after being unable to wrap it up on home ice during a strong Game Six from the Bruins, they summoned up the energy and resiliency to become the third successive road team to win the Cup in a Game Seven.
Ironically, it was the 2011 Bruins who ended a 39-year drought by winning a road Game Seven over the Canucks by a similar 4-0 score. Unfortunately for them, the Blues flipped the script by getting a super performance from Binnington, who made 32 saves to backstop his team to a 4-1 victory in Beantown.
Conn Smythe winner O’Reilly scored the game’s first goal with 3:13 left in an otherwise lopsided first period on a wonderful deflection of a Jay Bouwmeester shot past Tuukka Rask. It was only the Blues’ third shot. Their fourth also went in when a very bad change by Brad Marchand with less than 10 seconds remaining allowed Jaden Schwartz to find a pinching Alex Pietrangelo for a wicked backhand top shelf with 7.5 seconds left in the period. A back breaking goal the Bruins never recovered from.
Somehow, Boston trailed 2-0 after flat out dominating the action. They carried the play by such a wide margin, it was insane. However, a laser focused Binnington wouldn’t allow his team to fall behind. He stoned the Bruins at every turn by denying glorious scoring chances to keep the game scoreless. There was a very tough snag of a dangerous Marchand shot through traffic on a Boston power play. There was a strong denial of a Patrice Bergeron one-timer from the slot on the same power play.
Binnington was in such a zone that he absolutely robbed both David Krejci and Marcus Johansson point blank on great moves that included dekes where you felt for sure they would result in Bruins goals. Not last night. Johansson also was stopped on a dangerous backhand rebound. He was left shaking his head. That’s how well the unheralded 25-year old rookie netminder played.
As usually happens in such games, all it takes is one good scoring chance and shot to put some doubt into the favorite’s heads. Sure enough, it was a big hit by Blues rookie Sammy Blais that kept a forecheck alive. Eventually, Pietrangelo got the puck over to Bouwmeester, who aimed for O’Reilly’s stick in the high slot. What a redirection it was. It went by Rask so quickly that it was in and out of the net in stunning fashion.
That made it four consecutive games that O’Reilly had scored to become the first player to accomplish that feat since Wayne Gretzky in 1985. He would add an assist later on a Zach Sanford tally with 4:38 left in regulation to erase any doubt. For the series, the former Sabre center finished with nine points (5-4-9). More than anyone else as he dominated to earn Playoff MVP and help the Blues finally win Lord Stanley. It was heroic.
So badly outplayed and out-attempted were the Blues in the opening 20 minutes that it had to send shock waves through the entire building. They were up two despite everything. They capitalized on half their shots by finishing on the only two chances they created. The bad Marchand sequence following sustained pressure by the Bergeron line really came back to haunt the Bruins. You never go to the bench to change when the opposition has the puck on a counter attack. That’s what left Pietrangelo so open.
As poorly as they played early, the Blues were stingier in a full second that saw them keep most of the Bruins’ 11 shots to the outside. They did a stellar job slowing down play in the neutral zone. Despite barely any whistles and continuous action, Boston wasn’t able to generate the kind of quality chances they had in the first. That allowed a cool Binnington to make the saves with his teammates taking care of the rebounds.
Astonishingly, they had only 10 shots through two periods while Boston had 23 with double the amount of attempts. In Game Seven, it was a determined and scrappy bunch of Blues who sacrificed for the cause. They blocked 21 shots led by defensive beast Colton Parayko, who had five. Pietrangelo followed up with four and Bouwmeester had three. The trio combined for a dozen blocks. On the contrary, the Bruins only totaled seven due to all the puck possession they had.
It was that kinda game and that kinda series. If you out-attempted your opponent, it didn’t matter. The winner was usually the team that didn’t have as many total attempts. A very strange Stanley Cup. For the game, the Bruins outshot the Blues 33-20 and out-attempted them by an ungodly 62-32. Yet they could only solve Binnington once with Matt Grzelcyk finally beating him with only 2:10 left in the third period to erase the shutout bid. One the first-year goalie deserved.
One advantage St. Louis had was the choppy ice. Once they grabbed the two-goal lead before the conclusion of the first, it was gonna be an uphill climb for the Bruins. Plays were hard to make with the puck bouncing around. Such ice makes it harder on a team trying to come back. Combined with the Blues sitting back by standing up at their blueline, it made life very difficult for the home team.
Boston didn’t help itself either. On a night only one penalty was called by a good officiating crew of Chris Rooney, Kelly Sutherland and Gord Dwyer, the Bruins pressed in the middle stanza. Rather than go for the simple play by taking shots on Binnington like they had in the first, they tried to make too many East/West plays with passes that got easily intercepted by a disciplined St. Louis defense.
By the time the desperate third rolled around, time was running out. They sure came out with great urgency. There were so many rushes and sustained pressure in the St. Louis zone. Shots were fired from everywhere. It took an unbelievable Binnington save on Joakim Nordstrom with over 11 minutes left to basically send a message. On a glorious rebound, it looked like Nordstrom had a sure goal that would’ve made it 2-1, changing the whole game. Instead, a sprawling Binnington stoned him point blank to stun the Boston crowd.
Not long after, the Blues top line came on a three-on-two rush with Schwartz passing for Vladimir Tarasenko, who threaded the needle for a bullet from Brayden Schenn past a helpless Rask for the coup de grace that made it 3-0 with 8:35 left. A perfect passing play due to the Bruins getting caught.
Sanford added the finishing touches from David Perron and O’Reilly with 4:38 to go. Perron came so close last year with Vegas. In his third tour of duty with the team that drafted him, he was finally a Stanley Cup Champion. A good player no matter where he played.
Sure. Boston coach Bruce Cassidy pulled Rask for an extra attacker. While Grzelcyk ended the shutout at 17:50, it was far too late. It wasn’t to be for the Bruins as they dropped the first ever Stanley Cup home Game Seven in their building. It also marked the first home Game Seven in Boston since the 1984 NBA Finals when the Larry Bird led Celtics held off the Magic Johnson led Lakers to win the NBA Title.
It’s funny how sports work. You can play a very good game and lose like Boston did. You can struggle which the Blues clearly did, but get bailed out by your netminder as Binnington provided in both Games Five and Seven on the road. That’s how I would explain this series and the astonishing St. Louis run to its first Stanley Cup. They were resilient from the net out.
When it was over, the traditional handshake took place. It was a bit odd to see Binnington at the front shaking hands quickly with courageous Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and a dejected Rask, who was the main reason his team got to this point. Sometimes, that’s hockey. Where even when your best player does everything he can, all it takes is the opposing hot goalie and an opportunistic opponent to put four past him on only 20 shots. Had the Bruins won, it was Rask who would’ve won Conn Smythe.
The Blues perseverance and heavy forecheck won out. But it was the brilliant play of the goalie Binnington, who won the series by stealing the deciding seventh game. They did it for inspirational 11-year old superfan Laila Anderson.
When the loudly booed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman presented the Conn Smythe to O’Reilly and the Cup to Pietrangelo, who had himself a night with a goal, assist and stellar defense, the overjoyed Blues let out plenty of F bombs on NBC, which had to cringe. At least they did an interview with Pierre McGuire and Pietrangelo and showed the handshake and half of the Cup being passed around before cutting away for the local 11 o’clock news.
It still ceases to amaze me how they could go to commercial in the middle of a historic St. Louis Blues celebration. Network TV folks. This is the NHL partner. They eventually moved over to NBCSN where the rest of the Cup celebration continued with more bleeps and more cool fun by a team who deserved the win by earning it against a worthy opponent.
It marked the third successive time the road team prevailed in a winner take all Game Seven for the Cup. Prior to the 2009 Penguins and 2011 Bruins, the home team had won six in a row. The last road team to win a Game Seven for Lord Stanley was the ’71 Canadiens, who rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Blackhawks 3-2 at the old Chicago Stadium. Here’s how things look since:
STANLEY CUP GAME SEVEN
May 31, 1987 Philadelphia Flyers 1 Edmonton Oilers 3
June 14, 1994 Vancouver Canucks 2 New York Rangers 3
June 9, 2001 New Jersey Devils 1 Colorado Avalanche 3
June 9, 2003 Anaheim Mighty Ducks 0 New Jersey Devils 3
June 7, 2004 Calgary Flames 1 Tampa Bay Lightning 2
June 19, 2006 Edmonton Oilers 1 Carolina Hurricanes 3
June 12, 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins 2 Detroit Red Wings 1
June 16, 2011 Boston Bruins 4 Vancouver Canucks 0
June 12, 2019 St. Louis Blues 4 Boston Bruins 1
Here’s the question. Is home ice no longer the same? It sure seems like it. Having seen the 2015 Rangers go into Tampa and dominate them to win Game Six and then turn into pumpkins in a mind numbing 2-0 shutout in Game Seven at MSG to lose the Eastern Conference Final, the lasting image is of them getting shutout twice in Games Five and Seven on their home ice under former coach Alain Vigneault. Hard to fathom.
It’s not what it once was. The play is more even and unpredictable. That’s why I didn’t pick a winner last night. Because I actually didn’t know what would happen. Just ask the President’s Trophy winning Lightning what home ice meant after getting swept by the Blue Jackets.
We’ve seen road teams go far before. Lower seeds like the Kings winning their first Cup in 2012. Two years later, they came back from a 3-0 deficit to stun the Sharks in the first round. The Flyers did it in 2010 to the Bruins en route to a Stanley Cup Final before getting beaten by the Blackhawks in six games.
Things are much different now. Upsets are more common. The parity is real. Anything can happen in the postseason. If it weren’t true, you wouldn’t have had the Hurricanes going into DC and stunning the Caps in sudden death. Eventually, making it to the Conference Final before Rask stoned them in a four-game sweep.
So, what will happen a year from now? Nobody can predict. I think my predicting days are coming to an end. What’s the point? I never get anything right. Most don’t.
Now, it’s onto the offseason with the huge first round of the NHL Draft next Friday on June 21. Decision time for the Devils on Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko with the Rangers patiently waiting for their consolation prize. Then, a buyout period and negotiating between teams and Group II free agents like Brayden Point. Trade discussions centering around rumored players Jacob Trouba, Phil Kessel and Jason Zucker.
Then finally, July 1. A national holiday for puckers.
Well, it’s been a fun season. Way too long in my opinion. But the offseason will make up for it. Cya soon. 🙂