Relive The Run: The St. Louis Blues became Stanley Cup champions one year ago
It may be hard to believe, but the St. Louis Blues hoisted the Stanley Cup and capped off one of the most improbable success stories in recent hockey history one year ago.
Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the St. Louis Blues clinching their first Stanley Cup championship, ending the NHL’s longest wait ever – 52 years – for a first-time champion.
The Blues stretched the season to league’s last possible day. It ended with a 4-1 victory in a winner-take-all Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, the team who defeated the Blues in their last Stanley Cup Final appearance nearly a half-century before.
ONE YEAR LATER
Last year’s run won’t soon be forgotten. And it may hold even more meaning for hockey fans now as professional sports have come to a hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
For now, a chance to defend the Stanley Cup title from one year ago might not happen until deep into summer. The NHL recently introduced a plan that would allow training camp for playoff qualifiers to begin by July without further setbacks due to the pandemic.
The Blues concluded the 2019-20 regular season with a 42-19-10 record, finishing with a Western Conference best 94 points. If the season resumes as planned, the Blues quest for a potential repeat would start with a round-robin with the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars, the other top three finishers in the Western Conference.
After the longest wait for a first-time champion in NHL history, the Blues have the opportunity to hold onto their title as defending Stanley Cup champions a little longer than usual.
RELIVE THE RUN
Enjoy the one-year anniversary of the defending champions with this timeline of 19 season-defining moments from the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues:
Let’s rewind nearly six months before the 2018-19 campaign started. On the final day of the 2017-18 regular season, the St. Louis Blues took on the Colorado Avalanche with the NHL’s final playoff spot on the line. The Blues lost in regulation and missed playoffs for the first time in seven years, a rarity for a franchise that once had a run of 25 straight seasons in playoffs.
General Manager Doug Armstrong sensed it was a time for change, shaking up the roster and bringing in some major pieces for the team.
On the first day of free agency, the Blues inked veteran center Tyler Bozak to a three-year deal and welcomed back David Perron for his third-go-around with the team. Later that day, the Blues completed a blockbuster to acquire another experienced forward, Ryan O’Reilly, from the Buffalo Sabres. Nearly one week later, St. Louis native Pat Maroon agreed to play for his hometown team on a one-year deal.
There was no doubt the Blues were being aggressive in the offseason, but only time would tell how much the moves would help the team.
Unlike many of the previous seasons, the Blues had a sluggish start to the 2018-19 campaign. The Blues fell to 7-9-3 after a shutout loss at home to the Los Angeles Kings, who were also near the bottom of the standings at the time. The game was symbolic of the team’s early-season woes, but another change was in store.
That night, November 19, 2018, Mike Yeo was relieved of coaching duties after parts of three seasons. Craig Berube, who joined the Blues as an assistant coach in 2017, took over an interim basis. Berube had previously coached parts of two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, leading them to one playoff berth. Ahead was a similar challenge to help the Blues get their season back on track and avoid further fallout in the Western Conference standings.
With key victories over division foes in Berube’s first few weeks, things looked to be slightly improving, but the Blues still couldn’t gain much ground in the standings. In mid-December, a video surfaced of an in-practice confrontation between Robert Bortuzzo and Zach Sanford. The video shows several punches between the teammates before coaches ultimately broke up the fight. At the time of release, the video drew harsh criticism on social media and led fans to question the state of the team.
The Blues entered the new calendar of year of 2019 near the bottom of the Western Conference. On the morning of January 3, the Blues were officially in last place with a record of 15-18-4 and 34 points. The Blues were tasked with rebuilding their identity with nearly half of the regular season gone. Up to that point, only two other teams had ever made playoffs after being in last place at some point following the turn to a new calendar year.
Arguably the most critical date credited to the Blues’ season turnaround was January 7, 2019. That night, Jordan Binnington got the call for his first NHL start in Philadelphia, taking on a Flyers team that was also struggling to keep pace in their conference. It was the start of an underdog story for the netminder, who spent several years in the minors and had three games of NHL experience in relief prior to then. Binnington blocked all 25 shots and cruised to a shutout victory behind three Blues goals. It was the first of 24 wins and 5 shutouts he would finish with in the regular season, as Binnington emerged as the go-to goalie and eventually placed second for the Calder Trophy, the award for NHL’s top rookie.
The night before, multiple players visited Jacks NYB, a private bar in south Philadelphia, to watch the Eagles/Bears NFC Wild Card game. A DJ played Laura Branigan’s ‘Gloria’ during a commercial break, but it wouldn’t be the last time that night. Defensemen Joel Edmundson told NHL.com at the time that one guy asked the DJ to “Keep playing Gloria!” It left a lasting impression on the players, who then decided to play it after victories in the locker room. From then on, “Gloria” became a St. Louis craze and the team would play it for fans following home victories in the regular season and playoffs.
Despite the team’s slow start to the season, new acquisition Ryan O’Reilly proved to be a consistent force. He was the lone representative for the Blues in the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, entering the All-Star break with 50 points in 49 games. O’Reilly would finish the regular season with perfect attendance, 28 goals and a team-best 77 points.
The center elevated his game play to award-winning heights. O’Reilly capped off a remarkable playoff run with points in six straight games and finished the series four-game goal streak, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the league’s top playoff performer. Later on, O’Reilly would be honored with Selke Trophy, awarded to the league’s top defensive forward, largely due to his success in faceoffs and special teams. One of his most notable goals that season made history for the Blues, as explained in the next season-defining moment.
Another season storyline started January 23, 2019. The Blues rallied to a 5-1 road victory over the Anaheim Ducks in their final game before All-Star break. Little did fans realize then the Blues would not lose another game for nearly a whole month. The team’s surge included a stunning third period comeback over the Florida Panthers, a one-goal, overtime victory against NHL point-leading Tampa Bay Lightning and wins in back-to-back days against division rival Nashville Predators.
Then came another tough assignment on February 19, 2019 at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Riding a ten-game winning streak into the game, the Blues started strong with two first-period goals. The Maple Leafs countered with two late tallies to send the game to overtime. Ryan O’Reilly needed only 34 seconds beyond regulation to seal the historic game-winner. The victory marked an 11-game win streak to pass the team’s previous record of 10 straight in 2002. It also lifted the Blues back into the playoff picture, though they would need to maintain their steady play to make it count for playoff run.
Veterans lead the way as the Blues climbed back into the playoff picture. Vladimir Tarasenko returned to All-Star form in February with 22 points in 14 games, including six multi-point efforts. He was awarded NHL’s third star of the month, which also included a personal milestone on February 10, 2019. Tarasenko sealed an overtime victory with a goal that would stand for his 200th career tally and fourth NHL hat trick.
David Perron also made the most of his first season of his third go-around with the Blues. After making the Stanley Cup Final with the Vegas Golden Knights the year before, Perron quickly developed chemistry on a line with Ryan O’Reilly. In mid-January, Perron went to the injured reserve with an upper body injury, a tough blow on the heels of a 13-game point streak. Upon return in March, he extended his point streak to a career-best 17 games.
Blues superfan Laila Anderson won the hearts of hockey fans as she cheered on the Blues during their Stanley Cup title run last spring. Laila was an 11-year-old fan with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a rare immune disorder that required her to undergo chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant in January 2019.
While fighting her illness, the Blues embarked on a battle of their own. Laila connected with the team and built genuine friendships with several players, including Colton Parayko, as the season moved along. Laila would later be surprised by the news that she would be heading to Boston to watch Game 7 in person. Following the Stanley Cup win, the Blues let her have a touching moment with the Stanley Cup and eventually gifted her a ring.
In less than three months, the Blues would go from last place to securing a playoff berth. There wasn’t much room for celebration that night, as the Blues had clinched on behalf of a loss from the Arizona Coyotes on March 29, following a loss of their own to the New York Rangers.
The Blues battled for playoff positioning in the final days of regular season, which concluded with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Vancouver Canucks on April 6. By the end of that day, the Blues were one point shy of the Central Division title and set for a first-round clash with the Winnipeg Jets.
Last year’s playoff run started against the Winnipeg Jets, a squad that the Blues had only one win against in regular season. Battling the Winnipeg Whiteout, the Blues rallied to a comeback victory in the series opener behind third-period goals from David Perron and Tyler Bozak. In Game 2, Oskar Sundqvist netted a pair of goals, supported by tallies from Pat Maroon and Ryan O’Reilly. Emerging star Jordan Binnington made several highlight-reel saves over the first two games, as the Blues stunned the Jets with a pair of wins in Manitoba.
The Blues lost the next two games as the series shifted to St. Louis, resulting in a split as the teams headed back to Winnipeg. Scoreless with a two-goal deficit through two periods, the Blues battled back and tied the contest behind goals from Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn.
With 15 seconds left in regulation, Jaden Schwartz stunned the Winnipeg crowd with a go-ahead goal that held up for a game-winner. With three straight road wins in the books, the Blues built an identity as road warriors throughout the playoffs.
Who knew that Game 5’s hero would also play hero in Game 6? As the Blues looked to clinch a ticket to the second round, Schwartz picked up right where he left off with a goal 23 seconds into the game. He then answered with two more goals in the next two periods, giving the Blues a 3-0 edge deep into the third period.
The Jets would strike back with two goals, including a short-handed tally in the final minute. But the Blues buckled down for the first home victory of the series, the key difference in advancing to the second round for the third time in four years. Schwartz would stay hot in the upcoming weeks, finishing his playoff run with 12 goals and 20 points.
For the second time in four years, the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars met in the second round of playoffs. For the second time in four years, it would stretch seven games.
It was the only playoff series that the Blues began on home ice. Robby Fabbri opened the scoring for the series, followed by a pair of goals from Vladimir Tarasenko that held up for a Game 1 victory. The next victory came in Game 3, a tic-tac-toe contest highlighted by a roller coaster third period. The Blues lost a lead twice that period, once on a short-handed goal. Alex Pietrangelo lit the lamp right after the shorthanded tally, while Pat Maroon delivered a late game-winner. Foreshadowing much?
The Stars made a statement the next two games, pushing the Blues to the brink of elimination behind the strong play of Ben Bishop, a former Blues prospect and goalie with St. Louis roots. Fortunes changed as the series returned back to Dallas for Game 6. Pietrangelo netted the opening goal nearly one minute in. With a tight lead minutes into the third period, Colton Parayko delivered a booming slapshot that stunned Bishop and sent him down on the ice. The Blues kept the play alive and netted a momentum-changing goal seconds later with help from a puck possession rule. Bishop stayed in briefly, but was pulled after allowing another unanswered goal. The Blues survived elimination for the first time in playoffs to force a winner-take-all at home.
This game embodied what playoff hockey is all about: A winner-take-all situation for both rivals that evolved into a nail biter well beyond regulation.
The Blues and Stars exchanged first-period goals, but the next one would not come for a long while. The Blues dominated in puck possession and scoring chances through three periods, but had only capitalized on Vince Dunn’s opening marker. For the first time in the series, the contest would head to overtime and ultimately need two overtimes to produce a winner.
Jordan Binnington stayed composed stopping 29 Stars shots. Ben Bishop was tested even more, facing 54 shots on goal. His last one started with a faceoff win in the offensive zone. It developed when St. Louis native Pat Maroon poked a puck to Robert Thomas, who then clanged a shot off the goal post before Maroon ultimately tapped the rebound into the net. Enterprise Center roared as Maroon made his mark as a hometown hero with the series-clinching goal, scoring it 5:50 into double overtime.
“As a kid, playing in a basement, on the street, you always think about doing this,” Maroon said on the series-clinching goal. “It’s unreal. It means the world.” The win would set up the Blues with a 2016 playoff rematch against the San Jose Sharks, who also went seven games in their previous series.
The Western Conference Final started in San Jose, where the Blues salvaged a series split upon return to St. Louis. In Game 3, the Sharks struck first with a pair of goals in the opening period. The Blues answered with four second-period goals, including a pair from David Perron. The Sharks responded to tie the game in the third period, forcing overtime for the first time in the series.
With a myriad of scoring chances past regulation, luck was simply not on St. Louis’s side for Game 3. Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson snuck a puck past Jordan Binnington nearly five minutes into overtime, but not without controversy. A hand pass from Sharks forward Timo Meier apparently factored into the goal, but the play was ultimately deemed non-reviewable. The Blues fell behind 2-1 in the series, but the hand pass served more as motivation than an excuse in the games that followed.
Following the hand pass game, the Blues responded in full force. The Blues survived a low-scoring Game 4, then saved their most dominant effort for Game 5 when the series moved back to San Jose. It was then Jaden Schwartz produced his second hat trick of the playoffs, plenty of insurance as Jordan Binnington pitched a 21-save shutout for a 5-0 win to move the Blues one win away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Injuries caught up with Sharks ahead of Game 6, and the Blues were in the driver’s seat with a chance to clinch the Western Conference title on home ice. Five players stepped up with tallies for the Blues, and Ryan O’Reilly dished three assists as the Blues completed their third playoff series at home. Outscoring the Sharks 12-2 in the final three games, the Blues clinched their first trip back to the Stanley Cup Final in nearly a half-century.
Up next, a battle with the Boston Bruins, the team who defeated the Blues in their last Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1970.
The Stanley Cup Final began in Boston on Memorial Day. Brayden Schenn produced the opening marker and the first Blues goal in a Stanley Cup Final in 49 years. The Bruins, however, rallied to open the series with a 4-2 defeat.
Game 2 started with a tic-tac-toe first period. The Bruins took the lead twice, but tallies from Robert Bortuzzo and Vladimir Tarasenko evened the score after the first period. The next two periods moved along without a goal on either side. But the Blues appeared to be generating more chances, outshooting the Bruins 37-23 and outhitting 50-31.
As crews prepared the ice for a 20-minute overtime, Carl Gunnarsson told head coach Craig Berube he needed just “one more chance.” The conversation reportedly happened while standing side-by-side at urinals in the restroom of the team’s locker room, shortly after the defenseman sent a booming shot off a goal post in the final minutes of regulation. Only 3:51 into overtime, Gunnarsson stuck to his word and rifled a one-timer past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask to secure a 3-2 comeback, the Blues first Stanley Cup Final win in franchise history. The Blues created a 6-on-5 man advantage thanks to a delayed tripping call against the Bruins, which sent Ryan O’Reilly out to set up Gunnarsson for his lone tally of the series.
With the series tied, the Stanley Cup Final made its long-awaited return to St. Louis. The anticipation was heavy, but it didn’t translate to immediate results. The Bruins opened Game 3 with four unanswered goals, leading to an eventual 7-2 loss that the Blues would look to shrug off quickly.
Down 2-1 in the series, the Blues quickly changed the narrative of the series in Game 4. Ryan O’Reilly opened the scoring less than a minute in, followed by another first-period tally from Vladimir Tarasenko.
In the second period, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara took a shot to the face that caused a severe jaw injury and bleeding to his mouth. However, Chara surprisingly returned to the game after a brief absence, needing plates, wires and screws to finish the series with what was later determined to be a broken jaw. Boston tied the game later that period.
Nearly halfway through the third period, Ryan O’Reilly would spark the offense once again with the go-ahead goal.
The Blues buckled down defensively from there, allowing only one shot in the final nine minutes to secure a 4-2 win and series split through four games. Other quiet contributors in Game 4 included Alex Pietrangelo with a pair of assists, Brayden Schenn with an empty-netter and Jordan Binnington, who stopped all but one even-strength shot.
Perhaps it wasn’t the flashiest of wins in the Stanley Cup Final, but the Blues looked sharp in their only home win of the series and bounced back to avoid the possibility of elimination in Boston.
With the Bruins and Blues both two wins away from the Stanley Cup title, both built a strong defensive game plan for Game 5, which would eventually finish as the lowest-scoring contest of the series. Neither team scored in the opening period for the first time that round, but it wouldn’t take much longer. Ryan O’Reilly, amid a six-game point streak, lit the lamp less than a minute into the second period. He would later assist on a goal to David Perron that increased the Blues lead by two goals, but not without some ambiguity from officials.
Midway through the third period, Bruins forward Noel Acciari was tripped as he tried to spin and fire a puck out of his defensive zone. The play went unwhistled, and Perron scored what eventually would hold up as the game-winner. The NHL released a statement on the no-call following the game, but that moment evidently worked in the Blues favor.
The Bruins responded with a strong effort given the circumstance, adding pressure with a goal moments later and several shots with an extra skater in the final minutes. Binnington turned in one of his strongest efforts of playoffs, stopping 38 of 39 Bruins shots, including 17 in the first period.
The nail biter 2-1 win gave the Blues their first lead in the series and moved them one win away from the Stanley Cup. With a chance to win it all in Game 6, the Blues suffered a 5-1 setback on June 9, setting the stage for a winner-take-all Game 7 in Boston.
Stretching the season to the final possible day, June 12, 2019, the Blues left St. Louis with unfinished business. At stake, two distinct outcomes: A chance to lift the Stanley Cup or a continuation of the NHL’s longest wait without one.
Game 7 started with scoring chances favoring the Bruins, who had a 7-1 shot advantage nearly three-quarters through the opening period. The Blues prevailed from then on out. Ryan O’Reilly, on the heels of a Conn Smythe Trophy, redirected a shot from Jay Bouwmeester for the first score nearly 17 minutes into the game. In the final seconds of the first period, Alex Pietrangelo controlled a pass from Jaden Schwartz and beat Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask with a backhand shot. A pin dropped at the TD Garden as he Blues took a commanding 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
After a scoreless second, one period stood in the way of history. The Blues and Bruins exchanged several chances before Brayden Schenn emerged with the Blues’ third unanswered goal, scored with just under 10 minutes remaining. The adrenaline was at a season-high, time drew closer to the end, and the Blues showed no signs of slowing down. Massachusetts native Zach Sanford added on one more Blues goal with less than five minutes remaining. With the celebrations in striking distance, the Blues nearly ended the year with a shutout win. The Bruins answered with nearly two minutes remaining, but it came too little, too late behind Jordan Binnington’s 32 saves.
Helmets, gloves and hockey sticks flew onto the ice in jubilation as the last buzzer finalized a 4-1 victory and the first-ever Stanley Cup title for the St. Louis Blues. The team’s long-awaited celebration echoed through the TD Garden, a moment best described by the historic call from Blues radio broadcaster Chris Kerber:
“Get up, St. Louis! Get on your feet! Raise them high! Five seconds to go, and the time winds down! They did it! It’s over! The game is over! The series is over! The wait is over! And the St Louis Blues are the Stanley Cup champions for the first time in franchise history!”