After missing the playoffs in the 2017-2018 season for the first time in six years, the St. Louis Blues organization found itself under a microscope with heavy blame directed towards Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong.
After a brief tornado of rage throughout the city with fans calling for Armstrong’s job, the tides turned, and the GM was soon being praised after some impressive off-season acquisitions.
For years, the city called out for a “true-centerman,” and that’s just what they received. The national hockey league called it a “blockbuster trade.”
The Buffalo Sabres traded centerman Ryan O’Reilly for Blues forwards Tage Thompson, Vladimir Sabotka, Patrik Berglund, a first round pick in the 2019 draft, and a second round pick in 2021. How Armstrong pulled it off? No one really knew.
O’Reilly would join the Blues coming off of a 61 point season, with an estimated 60% win percentage on the faceoff dot.
Added depth down the middle of the lineup continued with the signing of Tyler Bozak to a three-year contract. A must needed right-handed shot.
But Armstrong wasn’t finished yet. He tugged at the heartstrings of St. Louis fans with the addition of St. Louis native Pat Maroon. A dirty grinder with top-6 potential after playing on Edmonton’s first line with superstar Connor McDavid, before his brief stint in New Jersey.
Needless to say, the St. Louis Blues were verbally projected to be a Stanley Cup contender given an impressive roster…on paper.
There was only one thing in question heading into the season. Goaltending. Jake Allen was deemed the starting goaltender before the season even started.
Armstrong made it clear that this was the team taking the ice.
Paper Roster Falls Short
The cinematic roster on paper wasn’t fanning out at the start of season. Or by November of 2018. Allen was at a .905 season SV %, the team was described as inconsistent, and a small injury bug traveling throughout the Blues locker room didn’t help the case.
O’Reilly was deemed the Blues only hope and consistent player night in and night out. Where was the depth?
Rumors flooded throughout the city of tension and drama behind closed doors in the locker room between different players. Could anything be done internally to change what was taking place on the ice each night?
On Nov. 20, 2018, Armstrong announced the firing of head coach Mike Yeo after a Blues loss to the Kings, who sat at last place in the league.
Yeo served as head coach of the Blues since just 2017, when he was elevated from assistant coach after former head coach Ken Hitchcock was fired. There was no hiding the revolving door of coaching within the organization.
Now, it was the next assistant coach’s opportunity. Craig Berube was elevated to the interim head coach title after proving himself successful as head coach of the Blues AHL team the previous season.
Berube played in 1,054 NHL games during his professional career and became notoriously known for his grit and more than 3,000 penalty minutes. He planned on using this mentality to lead the team the same way he had played years ago.
The Downward Spiral Continues
The unraveling of the team wasn’t over yet.
On Dec. 10, defenseman Robert Bortuzzo dropped the gloves. Something he’s known for during a game given his tall physical stature and gritty style of play.
But this time it was different.
At Tuesday’s practice, Bortuzzo threw some of hardest punches of his season at teammate Zach Sanford.
Sanford got one punch in early, but Bortuzzo rained multiple haymakers down on Sanford’s head before the two were separated by assistant coach and retired Blues enforcer Steve Ott.
The Blues were continuously making their way down the totem pole in the league standings.
By Jan. 3, the St. Louis Blues sat in last place in the National Hockey League.
Berube made the decision to personally remove the NHL standings board from the Blues locker room wall.
Tides Turn, Gloria Emerges
On Jan. 6, the Blues made their way out to Philadelphia to take on an equally struggling Flyers team. Gritty, the team’s mascot and focal point of the organization, gained national recognition to take heat off of the team’s poor performance on the ice each night.
It was the night before the game and a handful of St. Louis players headed out on the streets of Philly to search for dinner.
According to a February article from NHL.com, Alexander Steen, Joel Edmundson, Robert Bortuzzo, Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri were welcomed into The Jack’s NYB, a members-only bar, to watch the Eagles/Bears NFC Wild Card game.
That’s when a DJ played ‘Gloria’ by Laura Branigan during a commercial break.
Edmundson said there was something special about the scenario. “This one guy looked at the DJ and said ‘keep playing Gloria!’, so they kept playing it. Everyone would get up and start singing and dancing. We just sat back and watched it happen. Right there we decided we should play the song after our wins.”
The following day a new face made its way into the Blues locker room. That face was Jordan Binnington.
On Jan. 7, Binnington made his way into the net at the Wells Fargo Center and made his first-ever NHL start. He blanked the Flyers, 3-0, as the Blues beat Carter Hart.
A victory song was played in the locker room. That song was “Gloria.”
“PLAY GLORIA,” Edmundson shouted.
That victory in Philly was the turning point. A point of a new beginning, a new mentality being enforced by a new coach, and a new way to play the game of hockey for the rest of the season.
Rookie Binnington Remains Hot
In 30 starts, Binnington went an astounding 24-5-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage, and five shutouts.
When the Blues visited the Wells Fargo Center, they had the same number of points as the Flyers. St. Louis was ranked 29th in the NHL at 16-19-4 and 36 points. The Flyers were ranked 30th at 15-20-6 with 36 points.
Binnington was named NHL rookie of the month for February, during which he was 10-1-0 with a 1.44 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage. Four of those wins were shutouts.
Binnington is the ninth rookie goalie in League history to get 10 wins in a calendar month, and the first to do it since Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings in March of 2010 (12-2-1).
With the help of Binnington, a healthy squad, and Berube at the helm, the Blues won 10 straight games from Jan. 23 to Feb. 19. Binnington was in goal for nine of the victories.
The Road To The Playoffs
After sitting in last place in the league on Jan. 3, the Blues catapulted themselves up the standings as they fought for a playoff position.
The team wavered in and out of wildcard standings before clinching a spot. Not only did they make the playoffs, but they now sat at third place in the Central Division.
But for a team that had battled so hard, simply making the playoffs wasn’t good enough. The Blues became determined to fight for a division lead.
After losing on Saturday, Apr. 6, in regulation, they remained in third place in the Central. The Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets were simply too consistent in the games needed.
The Blues would begin round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road in Winnipeg.
Round One: Schwartz Finds His Silver Lining
The Jets lead the Central Division for the majority of the regular season, and came into the first round swinging.
Winnipeg forward Patrik Laine was maintained, and the Blues continued to prove themselves a resilient road team. They’d head back to St. Louis with a 2-0 series lead.
The Blues perfect paper roster of depth began to show more and more.
On the heels of what had all the makings of a breakout campaign for Jaden Schwartz, with an injury-shortened 62-game, 24-goal, 59-point campaign in 2017-18, the expectation coming into the 2018-19 season was that Schwartz would build off of his performance and assert himself as top-tier secondary scorer in St. Louis.
Instead, he scored 11 goals and finished the regular season with 36 points in 69 games as a top-six fixture for the Blues.
Postseason was different.
The St. Louis forward found his silver lining in the last two games of the first round of the playoffs.
He became known as Jaden “hat-trick” Schwartz of the 2019 playoffs.
Binnington stopped 18 shots, and Maroon proved to be “chubby but effective,” to help the Blues beat the Jets 3-2 in Game 6 to advance to the second round.
Round Two: A Hometown Showdown
Next up were the Dallas Stars in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The storyline? St. Louis native and Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop versus Binnington.
This series would go to seven games, because it simply couldn’t be decided in less.
Fans entered Enterprise Center in fear of getting knocked out of the playoffs in the second round like the last time they made the playoffs. It was extremely rare to see the boys in Blue make it further.
Six games just wasn’t enough. The Stars and Blues would take it to seven.
The day was destined for luck. Game seven, on May 7, with a 7 p.m. puck drop, on a day where #7 Pat Maroon rally towels would be waiting for fans on every seat in the arena. Was this a sign, or a coincidence?
Of course, the game couldn’t end in regulation but carried over two not just overtime, but double overtime.
Binnington made 29 saves.
Maroon scored five minutes and 50 seconds into the second overtime, and became a hometown hero. The St. Louis Blues outlasted Dallas 2-1 in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
Bishop made 52 saves, but those simply weren’t enough.
Maroon’s celebration with his son Anthony went viral. It was the reason he had returned home in the first place.
Western Conference Finals: A Hand Pass and Resilient Forecheck
It had been two seasons since the Blues had made it to the Western Conference Finals. In 2016 it was against the San Jose Sharks. In 2019, the Blues would once again face the Sharks.
Joe Thortnon, Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Logan Couture, Thomas Hertl, Evander Kane, and more. A powerful team with notable names. A team hungry to reward its veteran players with a Stanley Cup.
It was the first playoff series that the Blues would trail after Game 1.
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko described the series as a matter of confidence.
After splitting on the road in California, the Blues returned back home where they prepared for Game 3. A game that went into overtime, and ended with a controversial play.
Karlsson scored the game winning goal on an assist from Timo Meier’s blatant hand-pass in front of the net.
No call was made, the play was non-reviewable under NHL guidelines, and the Blues now trailed in the series.
At a vulnerable point, the team had a choice on how to confront the frustration. With Berube at the helm there were no excuses, and there was no time to complain.
The Blues used their anger to their advantage and went on to outscore the Sharks 22-2 in the next three games.
With the loss of Karlsson, Hertl and Pavelski from the lineup due to injury, and a fight between two San Jose players at morning skate before game 6, the Sharks team unraveled. They couldn’t outlast the St. Louis forecheck.
The Blues advanced to the Stanley Cup Final after eliminating San Jose in 6 games.
Stanley Cup Final Appearance Dreams Become Reality
It was the city’s first Stanley Cup Final since 1970.
49 years of a dedicated fan base. 49 years of notable players in the lineup who strived for a closer chance to the Cup, but couldn’t reach it. 49 years of a relentless organization.
The St. Louis Blues would take on the Boston Bruins. The same team that the Blues faced in their last Stanley Cup Final appearance.
The final where the famous picture of Bobby Orr scoring the 1970 Stanley Cup-winning goal was taken and blasted across the hockey world.
Instead of Orr, the Blues would take on a former Blues captain in David Backes, a strong netminder in Tukka Rask, and immense depth throughout a lineup. The Blues had three days to plan how to shut down one of the top lines and power plays in the national hockey league.
What was different about 2019 versus 1970? Jordan Binnington. Craig Berube. And a team that plays with heart.
There were a lot of similarities between the Blues and Bruins. Large players, a strong forecheck, tough net minders, depth in all four lines, and coaches who truly understand the game. What would be the difference maker?
Heart and determination.
A theme had emerged throughout the playoffs. Teams who stayed quiet and determined despite controversial officiating proved to be victorious.
The Blues would have to play in another Game 7. Sixty minutes is all that stood in the way of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The St. Louis rookie goaltender would once again prove his talent. With 20 minutes left to play, being outshot 23 to 10 by the Bruins, the Blues had a 2-0 lead.
Stanley Cup Champions
On Wednesday, June 12, 2019, the St. Louis Blues became Stanley Cup Champions for the first time in franchise history.
Binnington would set a record of most wins by a rookie goaltender in playoff history in the NHL.
Ryan O’Reilly would be named winner of the Conn Smythe trophy after leading the Blues to the playoffs with 77 points in the regular season.
And the 2018-2019 St. Louis Blues would go down in history forever for bringing the City of St. Louis its first ever Stanley Cup.
A rookie goaltender, a favored interim head coach, and a team who played with heart during every high and low of a season.
Author: Hanna Yates