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Hochman: A Binnington-like jolt and Brett Hull scrap — last time the Blues won this many at home

Hochman: A Binnington-like jolt and Brett Hull scrap — last time the Blues won this many at home

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1993 Brett Hull

PHOTO: Blues players (from left) Craig Janney, Brett Hull, Nelson Emerson and Brandan Shanahan celebrate a goal during the 1993 playoff series against Chicago. The player in back is unidentified. (AP Photo)

During the last stretch the Blues did this — winning nine-consecutive home games — a baby was born in tiny Clinton, Ontario.

The O'Reillys named him Ryan.

That's how long it's been.

The current Blues, led by the Stanley Cup hero O'Reilly, have won nine-straight at home for the first time since their 1990-91 counterparts did so, back at the old barn. On Wednesday night, the Blues have a chance at win No. 10. And 17 members of the team hadn't even been born by Feb. 26, 1991, the night of win No. 9 at the St. Louis Arena.

And it was one of the more improbable wins ever.

The Blues hosted the hated Blackhawks, and both teams had the same amount of wins — the winner would take first place in the Norris Division.

And just 48 hours prior, the Blackhawks hosted and bruised the Blues, 6-2, in Chicago Stadium. In that game, there were THIRTY penalties called. The Blues' Darin Kimble alone tallied 22 penalty minutes (five for fighting, two for roughing, five for spearing and 10 for a game misconduct).

So the Blues were looking for revenge and a record home win. Except starting goalie Vincent Riendeau was out with a groin pull, so they went with backup Curtis Joseph, a 23-year-old. For safety reasons, the Blues also called up minor-league goalie Pat Jablonski from Peoria. As Dave Luecking wrote in the Post-Dispatch: “No one — repeat, no one — thought he'd play a minute in a game.”

But in the biggest home game of the year, Joseph suffered an injury two minutes in.

''Damn right there was concern when he came in,” the Blues' Adam Oates told the paper.

As Luecking detailed it: “Jablonski grabbed his glove and stick, put on his head gear and skated into the nets for one of the most inspiring moments in Blues' history. Just over a minute later, he was withstood Goulet on the penalty shot, which sailed wide.”

For the night, Jablonski allowed just one goal in the 3-1 win, while stopping 31 shots. Four of his saves were on Blackhawk breakaways.

“He played fantastic,” Oates said. “Oh, was he confident. He was pretty pumped up.''

In just his second NHL action ever, the 23-year-old Jablonski was the game's No. 1 star.

''The way Pat Jablonski played was certainly one of the classiest efforts I've ever seen any time during my life in any thing,'' Blues winger Brett Hull said in the paper. ''I mean, having to come off the bench like that ... he comes in and plays like that. That's purely a class act. That's a performance second to none.''

There was also an interesting tidbit involving “The Jablonski Game.”

With both regular goalies out, and the emergency call-up Jablonski in, who was the Blues' backup goalie in the Feb. 26 game?

He was in the stands.

As the story went — detailed in the Post-Dispatch by Dan O'Neill — former NHL goalie Lindsay Middlebrook was a 35-year-old in the St. Louis area. He last played professionally in the 1985-86 season. That night, he had a friend in from Kansas City, so they put back a couple beers at an early dinner and headed to The Arena.

And then, two minutes in, CuJo was down.

As O'Neill chronicled:

Susie Mathieu, then the Blues' director of public relations and marketing, said: "I got a call from Bob Berry and he asked me if Lindsay was in the building. I said, 'You're kidding me.'"

Mathieu quickly checked the "Alumni Club," a section at The Arena reserved for NHL alumni who live in St. Louis. Sure enough, Middlebrook and his pal were there.

"Not two or three minutes after Pat went into the game, I felt this tap on the shoulder," Middlebrook said. "It's funny because as soon as I felt it I knew what it was about."

Middlebrook is a salesman for Johnny Mac's Sporting Goods stores and an assistant hockey coach at De Smet High. He also plays hockey occasionally on an alumni team.

"But my skills have deteriorated a bit," he said, with a laugh. "It took me 20 years to build a reputation as a goaltender, and it would have taken me one night to completely destroy that reputation. ...

"A million things go through your mind. I mean, I knew I had a few beers already.

"I had just seen in the newspaper what the players were making per game. So I told Susie, 'You pay me what Brett Hull makes per game and I might consider it.' I was in a pretty good bargaining position. I had about 12 people advising me on what I should ask for."

According to NHL rules, the Blues could have signed Middlebrook on the spot and used him if Jablonski had been injured. In that situation, a team can sign any player whose rights do not belong to another team.

In the game, Jablonski was actually knocked down a couple times — Chicago's Steve Thomas even got a roughing penalty — but Jablonski stayed in net.

So, with nine home wins in nine games, the Blues went for No. 10 on Feb. 28, 1991. Because another possible goalie was hurt — minor-leaguer Guy Hebert, who would go on to become an NHL All-Star — the team traded for backup Tom Draper from Winnipeg (for future considerations). Three months later, the Blues sent Jim Vesey to Winnipeg as the “future considerations.” And on the same day, the Blues also traded Draper back to Winnipeg … for future considerations.

So, the Blues essentially “rented” Draper for three months with a payment of one Jim Vesey.

But Draper was on the Blues' bench for the Feb. 28 game, watching Pat Jablonski start against the New York Rangers. A St. Louis win would've made 10-consecutive at The Arena. The game was very intense. Even Hull, a Lady Byng winner, got into a rare confrontation.

As Luecking detailed in the Post-Dispatch:

The Rangers' Brian Mullen swiped Hull's stick in overtime and wouldn't give it back. Big mistake.

"You can hook me and hold me, but don't grab my stick," said Hull, who makes his fortune with a hockey stick. "I wanted to get my stick back so I could go in front of the net."

Hull grabbed for it. Mullen pulled it back. Hull shoved Mullen. Mullen hugged the stick. Hull finally wrestled the stick from Mullen and skated away, but not before tossing in an extra shove.

When asked about that after the game, Blues coach Brian Sutter wore a big smile.

"I like to see that," Sutter said with a gleam in his eye.

The Blues defenseman Scott Stevens scored the game's first goal, and Mullen tied it up. By the third period, it was 4-3, New York, when Sergio Momesso tied it up again with 8:08 left (one can only imagine Ken Wilson's goal call: “Ser-gi-o Momesso! Oooooohhhh babyyyyyy!”)

Back then in the National Hockey League, they just played a lone overtime period. New York goalie Mike Richer stopped four Hull shots in the overtime. And the Blues almost scored, as Luecking wrote, “when Dave Lowry tried to knock in Mario Marois' rebound with his shoulder, only to have the puck hit his helmet and land in Richter's lap.”

Alas, neither team scored. The game finished as a tie. The home win streak was over. And the Blues would lose their next home game.

That 1990-91 team was one of the better clubs to ever wear the note. The Blues finished 47-22-11 (105 points) and second in the Norris. St. Louis beat Detroit in the first round, but lost to the Minnesota North Stars in the second round.

But their record stood for all these years, from The Arena through the days of the Kiel/Savvis/Scottrade/Enterprise Center.

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