The game-winning shot in overtime by Washington's Jakub Vrana sails past Blues goalie Jordan Binnington on Wednesday at Enterprise Center. The Capitals won the season-opening game 3-2. (Laurie Skrivan, firstname.lastname@example.org)
It wasn’t a dream, and as of Wednesday night there’s a banner to prove it. On a night unlike any other in St. Louis sports history, there was emotion, shouts of joy and a tear or two as the banner was raised to the rafters at Enterprise Center: Stanley Cup Champions, 2019.
Try as they might, the Blues couldn’t keep the party going. They jumped to a 2-0 lead on goals by Sammy Blais and Alex Pietrangelo in the opening eight minutes, but it was all Washington for most of the remainder of the game.
Jakub Vrana’s goal with 2 minutes 9 seconds left in overtime gave the Capitals a 3-2 victory before a sellout crowd of 18,096.
“To me, our whole game tonight we weren’t aggressive,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “We didn’t play our game. The first period was fine, but after that I thought that we got away from our game, and didn’t have that aggressive mindset.
“Didn’t manage the puck very well.”
Normally, Berube doesn’t address the team after a loss — he lets any emotion of the moment pass and talks to the squad the next day. But with a day off Thursday, he talked to the players before they left the locker room following a disappointing season opener.
“They know how we’re supposed to play,” Berube said. “We didn’t do that for 60 minutes. They know that. . . . I thought it was good to talk to these guys about our game. And what went on. It’s not an easy day. Just a lot of emotions. Like I said, I thought we started off well in the game but it certainly died.”
With NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in the house, the Cup winners from the previous two years opened a season for the first time since the 1962-63 campaign and only the fifth time in league history.
The pregame ceremony was stirring, and even in defeat the Blues savored the experience.
“It’s a great moment,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “We’ll have a couple days to kind of reflect on it, but it was good. It’s obviously tough when you’re trying to flip the switch (after the ceremony) and get ready for the game. But obviously a pretty special moment.”
Blais had only three goals in 43 regular-season games last year for the Blues. It took him just 53 seconds to score the first goal of this Blues’ title defense.
After a strong preseason, Blais earned a spot on the Ryan O’Reilly line on opening night — valuable real estate to be sure. It paid immediate dividends when David Perron sent a pinpoint backdoor pass to Blais for a tap-in past Capitals goalie Braden Holtby.
Blais from Perron. Call it the French-Canadian Connection. (Blais left the game midway through the third period after absorbing a hard hit and tumbling to the ice. He did not return.)
The good times continued on the Blues’ first power play of the season. On a unit that consisted of Pietrangelo, newcomer Justin Faulk, Tyler Bozak, O’Reilly and Perron, Faulk passed to Pietrangelo in the left faceoff circle and the Blues’ captain fired a sizzler past Holtby with a one-timer.
“We talk about attacking the breakdown (on the power play),” Pietrangelo said. “And there was a breakdown.”
“It was a great shot by ‘Petro,’” Berube said. “It was good to see.”
But the Capitals regained some momentum on an Alex Ovechkin goal late in the opening period and after killing a Blues power play early in the second, seized control of the contest.
From the 3:42 mark of the second all the way until just 3:32 remained in the period — a stretch of more than 13 minutes — Washington outshot the Blues 14-0. Just about in the middle of those 14 shots, Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov tied the game 2-2 with a slap shot from the right point that deflected off Alexander Steen’s stick and past Binnington high, glove side.
The goal came with just seven seconds left on a Washington power play. It was a dubious call to begin with. Bozak collided with Jonas Siegenthaler behind the Washington net, fell to the ice and Siegenthaler fell over Bozak. Somehow that translated to two minutes for tripping on Bozak.
But the larger issue was the Blues’ inability to get anything going offensively for most of the second period and part of the third. The Capitals turned the pressure up on their forecheck, suffocated the Blues in the neutral zone and seemed to get to most of the loose pucks.
“We turned the puck over a lot,” Berube said. “They played quick. Got it in on us, went to work and they just had a bunch of zone time on us.
“And when we got it back we turned it over at the blue line — they countered on us. Again. Here they come again. And we were on our heels for quite some time until probably five minutes to go in the (second) period.
After Binnington held off the Capitals in a furious closing minute of regulation, the winning sequence for the visitors came after extended zone time during three-on-three play in overtime. The Blues’ trio on the ice gave the Capitals a lot of cushion before Vrana ended things by skating to his left, around O’Reilly and beating Binnington.
“Just too slow,” Berube said of the OT sequence. “Soft. Just backing off too much.”
“You never expect to give up a lead,” Binnington said. “Let alone a 2-0 lead. We just gotta keep working and stick to the game plan.