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

The unlikely dream lives on.

The Blues are headed to the NHL’s Final Four for just the fourth time since 1970. They needed about four grueling hours to punch that ticket Tuesday night, but they finally outlasted the Dallas Stars 2-1 in double overtime of Game 7.

“A lot of people doubted us,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “I’ll tell you what, and I really do mean this, I get proud of this group more and more every single day . . . A lot of people say we have a close room, and we do. That’s a resilient effort from where we were in December to get to where we are now. You have look back and be proud of this effort.”

Enterprise Center shook when Pat Maroon punched a Robert Thomas rebound past goaltender Ben Bishop to finally win the game. Long-suffering Blues fans released their anxiety with a collective roar as the players celebrated at center ice.

“We deserved that game tonight,” Maroon said. “It hasn’t really hit me . . . what a roller coaster. It’s emotional for sure. Probably the biggest goal I’ve ever scored in my career.”

By continuing an unlikely run that began in January — when they sat dead last in the entire league — the Blues have their best shot since 1986 to actually win their first Stanley Cup.

That might seem like crazy talk to a fatalistic base of fans, who have come to accept playoff disappointment as their lot in life. They have developed the same self-pitying tendencies displayed by fans of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

They believe their team is cursed. Their fears were reinforced during the first period of Game 7 when referee Marc Joannette accidentally set up the Stars’ game-tying goal in the first period.

Joannette got into the path of David Perron pass attempt along the end boards and kicked the puck to Dallas forward Mats Zuccarello, who scored into the empty net to erase the Blues’ early 1-0 lead.


Undeterred, the Blues tilted the ice against the Stars and outshot them 18-1 in the second period and 13-3 in the third. Somehow they failed to convert chance after chance at even strength. And their power-play accomplished nothing in two tries.

“We played well pretty much most of the game,” Pietrangelo said. “At one point the shots were like 40-15 or something.”

But they kept coming and, like Maroon said, they deserved this game. Now the Blues move on to face the winner of the Colorado-San Jose series, which concludes with Game 7 Wednesday night.

These are the most wide-open NHL playoffs in memory. Upsets are the norm. Most of the pre-postseason favorites are long gone.

The Tampa Bay Lightning (128 points, Presidents’ Trophy), Washington Capitals (defending champions), Pittsburgh Penguins (two-time recent champions), Calgary Flames (top Western Conference seed), Nashville Predators (Central Division champions) and Vegas Golden Knights (defending Western Conference champions) all exited in the first round.

So, yes, we’re saying there’s a chance. The Cup is just sitting there, waiting to be won by one of these teams that frankly weren’t supposed to be in the chase.

If not now for the Blues, then when?

As St. Louisans can cite chapter and verse, this franchise has a sad playoff history. Those trips to the Cup Finals in their first three seasons, 1968-70, came with an billboard-sized asterisk because the NHL charitably placed all six expansion teams on the same side of the league.

The Blues emerged as the best of the newbies during their first three playoffs . . . then went 0-12 in the Cup finals against Montreal (1968, 1969) and Boston (1970). Since then, the Blues have advanced past the second round just four times in nearly five decades.

There was the 1986 “Monday Night Miracle” team, which nearly toppled the powerful Calgary Flames to reach the Cup Finals against Montreal. That team, coached by the charismatic Jacques Demers, had the “it” factor that few Blues teams have captured.

Led by Bernie Federko and Brian Sutter, that team had a real shot at winning it all. Its superhuman comeback in Game 6 of that series was single greatest night in franchise history.

Then there was the 2001 team, coached by Joel Quenneville and featuring Hall of Fame defensemen Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger. Alas, the more talented Colorado Avalanche crushed the Blues in five games en route to winning the Cup.

More recently, coach Ken Hitchcock led veteran Blues to the conference finals against San Jose in 2016. The Sharks won that evenly-played series in six games, then fell to the Sidney Crosby-led Penguins.

Now the Blues are back in the Final Four for the second time in four years, an achievement that suggests the organization is finally gaining traction.

This time the Blues head into the third round with a hot goaltender, the unflappable Jordan Binnington. This time they advanced with the mental toughness that can only be gained by plowing through adversity month after month after month.

“It’s been a long road, but we keep on pushing,” Pietrangelo said. “It takes everybody right now, but we’re finding a way.”

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