St. Louis can stop singing the blues. It’s time to play “Gloria.” The St. Louis Blues, at last, are Stanley Cup champions.
Ryan O’Reilly scored for the fourth straight game and rookie Jordan Binnington stopped 32 shots in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to lead the St. Louis Blues to a 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins and their first NHL championship.
“I don’t even know what to say. Where we were to where we are now … I’ve never been more proud to wear this jersey. This group of guys is unbelievable.”– Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo
Returning to the sight of their last appearance in the final, which ended when Bobby Orr sailed through the air after scoring the Cup winner, the Blues won for the third time in Boston in the series and an NHL record-tying 10th time in the postseason.
O’Reilly won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the postseason. He is the first player since Wayne Gretzky to score in four consecutive Stanley Cup Final games. Not so surprising with Gretzky, who is the NHL’s leading regular-season and playoff scorer, but O’Reilly had just three goals in his first 22 postseason games.
This team was supposed to contend for the Cup when the season began.
After missing the 2018 playoffs by one point, general manager Doug Armstrong loaded up for this season. He signed forwards Tyler Bozak, David Perron and Patrick Maroon, a St. Louis native, as well as backup goaltender Chad Johnson. He traded first- and second-round picks, top prospect Tage Thompson and roster players Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund to Buffalo for O’Reilly.
But the team came together slowly. The contender team was losing badly.
Something had to be done. So Armstrong made a coaching change. Mike Yeo was fired in November.
Armstrong promoted assistant coach Craig Berube to be the interim coach. The move worked. Berube, who was fired before as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, became the fourth coach in the past 11 years to be hired in midseason and go on to lead his team to the NHL title.
The team was mired in last place six months ago, but a bond was forged during a midseason stretch of 70 days without consecutive home games.
Season-defining moments soon began piling up:
• A night after five players heard “Gloria” repeatedly played at a Philadelphia bar, 25-year-old Jordan Binnington began his ascension from fourth-stringer at training camp to starting goalie by posting a shutout in his first NHL start. He won the job and kept it for the remainder of the season. Binnington produced one of the great rookie runs in NHL history.
• A franchise-record 11-game winning streak set the tone for the second half of the season.
• Maroon scored the game-winning assist in the playoff opener the day after his grandfather died.
• Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson scored a game-winner in overtime in Game 2 against the Bruins after telling Berube in a locker-room bathroom at intermission he needed just one more chance.
• St. Louis won four postseason rounds, 16 postseason games in all.
• The Blues eliminated the Winnipeg Jets in six games, the Dallas Stars in seven and then knocked out the Sharks in six to reach the final for the first time since 1970.
One of the keys to their success was overcoming a missed call when San Jose won a hand pass on Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. The Blues could have wilted like a delicate flower.
Berube was not going to let it happen. Perhaps no moment was bigger than his short but straightforward speech after that devastating loss to the Sharks. He wouldn’t let this one incident snowball. In his second NHL head coaching job, he was that confident – confident in the team Armstrong had built.
On this team with six new faces, his comments about the Sharks game resonated immediately. He told the Blues just to focus on the next game.
The Blues did.
Just 35 seconds into Game 4, Ivan Barbashev scored. In the same game, Binnington made 29 saves and the Blues marched on.
After 52 years, St. Louis has a championship in hockey.
Cue up “Gloria.”