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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Stars Blues Hockey

Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (left) helps goalie Jordan Binnington against pressure from Dallas Stars winger Roope Hintz during Game 7 of the NHL's Western Conference semifinals in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

So here is a jarring question for local hockey fans to ponder as their post-celebration haze finally clears:

What if Roope Hintz had scored? What if the Dallas Stars had sent the Blues to another second-round defeat in the playoffs?

How would we look at the players, coaches, management of that franchise heading into this offseason?

It’s worth considering because the Blues came within inches of losing Game 7 of the Dallas series. They came thisclose to ending their playoff run long before their Stanley Cup Final triumph and their days-long, multi-city and highly interactive championship party.

(By the way, nobody will accuse these Blues of taking their title for granted. They partied as if a meteor was 48 hours away from crashing into Earth and blowing the planet to smithereens. They held nothing back.)

Losing that second-round Game 7 would have brought a classic Blues heartache, because they dominated the Stars for the last two periods of regulation play. They attacked in waves, outshooting Dallas 31-4 for those 40 minutes.

Our Town’s Ben Bishop, a jilted former Blue, made one ridiculous save after another to keep the game at 1-1. Of course he did! That’s the sort of thing former Blues do to this star-crossed franchise.

Then Hintz pounced on a loose puck in the neutral with a minute of regulation time left. He burst in on left wing, flying past Brayden Schenn. He drew out goaltender Jordan Binnington, then circled the cage for a wraparound shot into the wide-open net.

Victory was on his stickblade. The Stars appeared ready to take the lead, kill off the final seconds and deliver still another gut punch to Blues fans.

At the last possible second Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester reached in with his long arms to deflect the Hintz’s shot away from the goal line. Stars forward Mats Zuccarello raced in hoping for the tap-in conversion, but Blues forward Jaden Schwartz eliminated him with a body check.

Play went the other way, regulation time expired, the game went into one overtime and then another . . . and finally the Blues’ Pat Maroon ended the series by jabbing home a loose puck in double OT.

Such is the tiny margin between eternal glory and another exasperating defeat. There were many, many other moments that could have gone the wrong way, too. They didn’t, though, and the Blues eventually made history. But what if Hintz had scored?

Rather than joining a celebration for the ages, Blues fans would have returned their familiar lament: Same Old Blues, lifting hopes only to crash them. Once again they would have spent their early summer wallowing in self-pity.

Had Hintz scored, Craig Berube still would have earned the Blues’ coaching position on a more permanent basis. But the number of years and dollars would have been less than he is likely to earn now that he has Cup leverage.

Binnington was also due for a raise, even if he lost Game 7. His brilliant play rallied the Blues into the playoff bracket and carried them past the favored Winnipeg Jets in the first round.

He won that Game 7 against Dallas and eight more and now the numbers figured to be much different. Goaltender Matt Murray got a three-year, $11.25 million extension after winning the Cup as a Pittsburgh Penguins rookie, but Binnington is closer to unrestricted free agency.

Could he get $5 million per year? What about $6 million per year, buying into some unrestricted free agency years? That sounds crazy, but we’ve seen many crazy things take place since the Blues won the championship.

Had Hintz scored, key Blues would have faced harsher judgments. Fans would have gone back to questioning captain Alex Pietrangelo’s leadership ability and wondering what he could fetch in a trade.

Fans would have resumed asking if the Blues ever could win big with Vladimir Tarasenko as their top goal scorer. They would have gone back to complaining about Bouwmeester getting a contract for next season, when he turns 36, and whining about Colton Parayko’s lack of physicality.

The Cup triumph put them in a much different light.

The same goes for Maroon. He’s a playoff hero now, not the guy who scored just 10 goals for his hometown after scoring 44 on his previous two seasons in Edmonton and New Jersey.

The same goes for Schwartz. He’s the clutch forward who scored 12 times during the Cup run — with two hat tricks — and not the forward who scored just 11 goals during the regular season, 13 fewer than the year before.

The same goes for Schenn. He’s is the guy who scored the critical Game 7 goal in the Final and threw big postseason body checks, and not the guy who regressed from 70 points to 54 this season.

The Cup victory changed the view of management, too. General manager Doug Armstrong is a genius now, not the guy who burned through coaches, traded popular players and constructed team after team that fell short in postseason play.

To fully appreciate the magnitude of the Blues’ achievement, step back and ponder how you view the players, coaches and management now . . . and how you would have regarded them after another a second-round playoff exit.

What if Roope Hintz had scored?

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