BOSTON — Wanted: One more moment.
It ends here tonight, one way or another, and whether this emotionally exhausting, soul-stirring, city-uniting season of Blues hockey concludes with elation or sorrow, there will be a single scene remembered forever.
We just don’t know what it will be.
It could be the slap shot grown men confess to dreaming about as little boys, the save that makes history, the play that inspires statues and plants fingertips on the Stanley Cup.
An unknown hero approaches. His arrival is as certain as his identity and loyalty are mysteries. We can’t yet know who or how or even why, and for these reasons nerves frazzle and muscles clench. The answers will be here soon, St. Louis. Know that your Blues were built for this.
“We have been through a lot,” said the steadfast Ryan O’Reilly, a glint in his eye.
O’Reilly could have been referencing his team’s 82-game regular season, one that weathered a coaching change and stumbled into a goalie revelation before the Blues scraped themselves from the basement floor of the league standings and steadily climbed into contention.
No other team in the history of the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL has accomplished a turnaround so successful after the season’s first-quarter mark. But instead O’Reilly was specifically mentioning the second season, the 25-game tour of postseason adrenaline that tonight locks the Blues and Bruins inside TD Garden until an inebriated champion stumbles out with a date made of silver and nickel alloy.
“We have, at times, lost momentum and had to gain it back,” O’Reilly said in the Garden on Tuesday. “We have done a great job of that. Our veteran guys who have played a lot of games, we lean on them. We are confident. We know what we have to do. We know what our best game looks like. It all comes down to this. We leave it out there.”
They reset after defeats, often looking their best after their worst. They have turned the road into their home. They have lost and gained back so many times now, they simply forgot about the Game 6 disappointment we spent hours dissecting.
Back to the road, where they have won nine of 12 games this postseason. Back to Boston, where they have won two straight. Back to having their backs against the wall, where they are comfortable enough to smile — and mean it.
“We have been the underdog in, if not all of, then most of the series in the playoffs,” said Carl Gunnarsson. “We are kind of used to that a little bit. We have shown ourselves and everyone else that we can beat anyone. We can come back. You can never count us out. That’s the strength of our team.”
A confidence that bloomed in coach Craig Berube’s Blues in January has been enhanced in the spotlight of the playoffs.
From Berube’s chuckle at a news conference Tuesday, to general manager Doug Armstrong’s roasting of the Bruins’ intentionally dawdling Zamboni driver before morning skate, evidence is everywhere that the Blues came here with conviction and without a single doubt.
Yes, Boston has been here and done that, won it and lost it, and there is great power in that previous Stanley Cup Final experience. The Bruins’ Game 6 win showed resilience worthy of a champion, but they are not alone in that trait. Can’t the same be said of the Blues?
Remember the whiteout they wrecked. Their three-goal third period in Winnipeg turned what was headed toward a third consecutive loss to the Jets into the win that tilted the first round toward the Blues. The moment? Jaden Schwartz’s baseball swing with 15 seconds left.
Remember the cancellation of Dallas. The moment? Pat Maroon’s game-winning double-overtime goal against goalie Ben Bishop in Game 7 of the second round.
Remember the hand-pass redemption. The Blues beat San Jose three consecutive games, by a combined score of 12-2, after a non-call awarded the Sharks in Game 3 of the third round. The moment? Ivan Barbashev’s tone-setting goal 35 seconds into Game 4.
Remember the old tweets that didn’t derail Jordan Binnington, the words the Blues’ goalie force-fed Stars coach Jim Montgomery, the smugness that faded from the Sharks’ Erik Karlsson’s face as the Blues took his legs hit by hit.
Remember the kind of confidence that has crystallized in a player such as Gunnarsson, a fifth-year Blues defenseman and 10-year pro with no postseason goals to his name, who predicted his overtime game-winner against the Bruins in Game 2 while standing next to Berube at the Garden’s dressing room urinals. Then he went out there and flushed it.
What a moment that was.
And now they need another one, their biggest one.
They’ve waited their entire lives for this. They saved their regular season for this. Their postseason proved they are ready for this.
“The resiliency, the relentlessness of the team, these guys never quit,” Berube said Tuesday. “The belief they have in the locker room is unbelievable.”
They are one moment away.
A look back at the Blues history in Game 7s
April 18: 1968: Blues 3, Flyers 1
Quarterfinals at Philadelphia
Division champ Flyers stopped cold by Mr. Goalie, Glenn Hall.
May 3, 1968: Blues 2, Minnesota 1
Won 2-1 (2 OT)
On day it was announced NBA's St. Louis Hawks were moving to Atlanta, Schock's goal sent St. Louis' first-year hockey team to Stanley Cup Finals.
April 16, 1972: Blues 2, Minnesota 1
Won 2-1 (OT)
Reward for ousting North Stars was series vs. Bobby Orr and the Bruins. Boston swept, scoring 28 goals in four games.
April 22, 1984: Minnesota 4, Blues 3
1984 Division finals
Lost 4-3 (OT)
Blues had game in hand until Willi Plett got 75-foot shot past Mike Liut, tying game in regulation.
April 30, 1986: Blues 2, Toronto 1
Victory put Blues in NHL's "final four" -- last time they've been there. Conference finals
May 14, 1986: Calgary 2, Blues 1
Blues couldn't cash in after Monday Night Miracle win tied series.
April 30, 1990: Chicago 8, Blues 2
In Blues' playoff lore, it's known as the Monday Night Massacre.
April 16, 1991: Blues 3, Detroit 2
Blues became 8th NHL team to rebound from 3-1 deficit and win playoff series.
May 15, 1993: Toronto 6, Blues 0
Maple Leaf Gardens crowd taunted Cujo: 'Jo-sieve, Jo-sieve, Jo-sieve.".
May 19, 1995: Vancouver 5, Blues 3
Iron Mike's Blues were Cup contenders, but Canucks won 3 games at Kiel.
May 16, 1996: Detroit 1, Blues 0
Lost 1-0 (2 OT)
The Great One coughed up the puck, and Steve Yzerman made the Blues pay.
May 4, 1999: Blues 1, Phoenix 0
First round at Phoenix
Win 1-0 (OT)
Coyotes coach "guaranteed" a Game 7 victory, but Pierre Turgeon's tip-in at 1:05 a.m. St. Louis time won it for Joel Quenneville's Blues.
April 25, 2000: San Jose 3, Blues 1
First round vs. San Jose
NHL's regular-season champs lose to No. 8 seed in what a Post-Dispatch columnist calls the "most embarrassing of all the Blues' playoff flops."
April 24, 2003: Vancouver 4, Blues 1
First round at Vancouver
Al MacInnis returns early from a separated shoulder after Blues blow a 3-1 series lead, but his giveaway leads to Canucks' game-tying goal and The Note's demise.