Right before the start of the season, the Blues made their annual team bonding trip, this time going to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
At the end of the team’s stay there, Academy superintendent Admiral Wallace E. “Ted” Carter, presented Blues coach Mike Yeo with a commemorative coin of their visit, which Yeo took back to St. Louis and had mounted and hung in the Blues dressing room at Enterprise Center.
“It will be kind of symbolic of this day,” Yeo said in early October, “and hopefully something at the end of the season we look back at and say this day helped us get to that point.”
The board the coin was mounted to included six shelves, each of which could hold 10 pucks. The idea was to take the final puck from each win and place it on the board, a way to chronicle the team’s progress through the season.
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And for three months, that board sat there as a reminder of how poorly the season was going.
When Yeo was fired on Nov. 19, there were just seven pucks on the board, not even a full row. Since game pucks bear the logo of the home team, pucks from wins on the road serve as markers along the way. Four pucks into the second row sits a puck from the Dec. 22 game at Calgary. That was the last game before Christmas. Almost three full months into the season, the board was two-third empty.
“It wasn’t pretty,” center Ryan O’Reilly said. “We expected there to be a lot more pucks up there and it was frustrating.”
Look at it now. As the Blues have made their march to the Stanley Cup Final, it is almost full. What was once a reminder of how poorly things were going is now almost at capacity.
“We filled it up real quick,” defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said. “We’re doing a little bit better now.”
Not long after that Calgary win, the board shifted into overdrive. Over the next month, the team won seven games, pushing them into the third row, and then came the franchise record 11-game win streak, and by the time it was done, there were pucks into the fourth row. The number of opposing logos visible on it is a reminder of how well this team has played on the road this season. At the bottom, where the pucks from the playoff series are, there are three Winnipeg logos to be seen, two of Dallas and two more of San Jose.
“You look at that and see how our team formed over the past four months and how we became a team,” defenseman Joel Edmundson said. “I like looking at that board. The Calgary puck, that’s where we started to turn it around. You look at that and you look at where you were and where you are now.
“Halfway through the year I thought that board was way too big for its purpose. Me and (Colton Parayko) were talking about it that now it might not be big enough. Hopefully.”
If Edmundson felt the board uninspiring, coach Craig Berube agreed. When Berube took over for Yeo, he took down the standings board that sits in the hallway from the parking lot to the dressing room at the team’s practice facility, because he thought it wasn’t sending the right message to the team. “It doesn’t change quick enough,” he said. “It’s just a negative effect.” He thought about doing the same thing with the puck board. But it stayed.
While Edmundson was less than thrilled with the board in those troubled times, Gunnarsson found it motivating.
“We needed a lot more pucks up there to even get in the playoffs,” he said. “I don’t think it was, what did you call it, demoralizing? That was more like, We’ve got to get going. We’ve got a long way to go, we’ve got to get going pretty soon here.
“Depending how you see stuff, it’s a half-full, half-empty situation. I didn’t think negatively about it. It was just, we’ve got to pick it up.”
“I think it shows the parity of the league, how we were able to stay in it,” O’Reilly. “We weren’t playing consistent hockey. We’d have a good game, think we figured it out, and couldn’t come back the next one and we were able to stay somewhat in the hunt and we kept working at it and eventually we win 11 in a row and that was amazing to see. You look at the board, you think, We’re one of the better teams in the league now. We’re going to have a chance at this. It’s amazing how a season, the ups and downs of it, there are so many highs and lows, and to be able to stay even keeled and keep working at it. It’s crazy to see how it pays off.”
When the Blues won their first game this season, Bobby Plager was given the honor of putting up the first puck. After the Blues won the Western Conference final, Plager spoke to the team. “I told them, I want one more. I want the fourth one. I’ll put the fourth one up there, too. The first and the last.”
There’s only one problem. The Blues won 45 games in the regular season. They have won 12 in the postseason. That’s 57 wins, and 57 pucks. The board has room for 60. The Blues need four more wins to take the Stanley Cup. So if they with the championship for the first time ever, there’s no room for the last puck.
“The last one doesn’t need to go there,” O’Reilly said. “I think it will be all right.”
“We’ll add another board,” Gunnarsson said. “We’ll put it somewhere nice.”
“We’ll put it in the Cup,” Edmundson said.
Top 10 Blues playoff moments
3. SOME CALL HIM 'BOOM-BOOM'
Somewhere along the line, defenseman Carl Gunnarsson picked up the nickname “Boom-Boom,” presumably because he doesn’t have the hardest shot. Kind of funny, right? Well, the Boston Bruins weren’t laughing in Game 2 of the Cup Final at TD Garden when Gunnarsson’s one-timer near the blueline got past goalie Tuukka Rask for a 3-2 overtime victory.
His first goal in 56 playoff games gave the Blues their first victory in a Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. Minutes after the dramatic win, the story behind the story leaked out.
With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, a Gunnarsson shot hit the post. In the intermission before OT, Gunnarsson and Craig Berube crossed paths at the urinal in the visitors’ locker room. Gunnarsson told the coach he needed just one my chance, and would make amends.
“I can’t deny that,” Gunnarsson said. “That’s where it happened. That makes it even more fun I guess. It’s a good story.”
10. WELCOME TO THE WHITEOUT
It seemed like the entire city of Winnipeg was on a mission to make Jordan Binnington as uncomfortable as possible in the opening-round series. Before the series, Jets star Patrik Laine said his team wanted to make him nervous. (Yes, nervous.)
On the eve of Game 1, a report surfaced on Twitter comments insensitive to Muslims made years ago by Binnington. He faced questions on the topic after the game day morning skate. Not to condone the tweets, but the source and the timing of the report seemed peculiar: It came out of San Jose by a reporter who grew up in Winnipeg.
Thirty seconds into Game 1, Binnington was clearing the puck behind his net when Jets forward Mark Scheifele interrupted Binnington's housekeeping by running him over. Every time Binnington touched the puck, the towel-waving, white-clad crazies booed loudly. But he did not look nervous in his first NHL playoff game — a 2-1 Blues victory.
2. O'REILLY TO THE RESCUE
The Blues’ first Stanley Cup Final home game since 1970 was a disaster, a 7-2 loss in Game 3. Jordan Binnington was pulled in the second period, and some in the North American media suggested the team had a goaltending issue.
Uh, no. Binnington was solid in a 4-2 Game 4 triumph, tying the series at 2-2. But the real star of the first home Stanley Cup Final victory in franchise history was center Ryan O’Reilly. He scored just 43 seconds into the contest on a lightning quick wraparound. Midway through the third period, O’Reilly scored the game-winner on a rebound of an Alex Pietrangelo shot.
Not quite a “lucky pinball.” But close, according to Tuukk Rask, who called it a “ladies tee shot.” Not sure what that meant, but Rask did leave some rebounds. O’Reilly would finish with a Blues-record 23 points in the playoffs en route to the Conn Smythe Trophy.
5. BORTUZZO? YES, BORTUZZO
A beaming Tom Stillman, in the hallway outside the Blues’ locker room, couldn’t help himself.
“I had Bortuzzo, backhand, top shelf, from the slot,” Stillman deadpanned, minutes after yet another improbable Blues victory.
No one saw this coming. Not Stillman, the Blues’ chairman and governor. Not the Blues, smarting from a 6-3 drubbing in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. And certainly not San Jose goalie Martin Jones.
In a season full of unforeseen heroes and unexpected contributions, Robert Bortuzzo put his name on the list with a game-winning goal late in the second period in Game 2 in San Jose. Things turned bleak when Logan Couture scored twice in the blink of an eye to wipe out a 2-0 Blues lead.
Then along came Bortuzzo, aka “Bob-o,” the veteran defenseman. He had scored only 14 goals in 365 regular-season and postseason games, until he went backhand, top shelf, from the slot on Jones.
1. 'WE'RE GONNA WIN THIS THING!'
In the winner-take-all Game 7, Jordan Binnington was spectacular in the opening period, with goals by Ryan O’Reilly and Alex Pietrangelo giving the Blues a 2-0 lead. But after a scoreless second period the outcome remained in doubt.
Just past the midway point of the third, Jaden Schwartz sent the puck up ice to Vladimir Tarasenko, who got to the puck before Charlie McAvoy. Looking over his right shoulder in the corner, Tarasenko sent a pass through the legs of Patrice Bergeron to Brayden Schenn who was steaming down the slot. Schenn’s one-timer zipped past Rask, glove side.
With suites at a premium in jam-packed TD Garden, Blues game-day scratches, and front office personnel were relegated to the press box, sitting next to a Post-Dispatch contingent. When Schenn’s goal made it 3-0 with 8:35 remaining, the reaction of that Blues contingent was priceless.
The look on their faces shouted: “We’re gonna win this thing!”
8. WHO'S MONTGOMERY?
Binnington will be the first to tell you he doesn't get nervous. But he does occasionally lose his mind, as evidenced by a meltdown during a Game 4 loss at Dallas in Round 2. Two Dallas goals in the period gave the Stars a 4-1 lead. Just as the period ended, Binnington got into a post-whistle shoving match at the net with Stars forward Jamie Benn. As Binnington headed off the ice for intermission, he slashed goalie Ben Bishop. He received a minor penalty for both transgressions.
Stars coach Jim Montgomery later said Binnington may have lost his cool, to which Binnington blankly replied: "Who's Montgomery?"
When told he was the coach of the Dallas Stars, Binnington replied, "He can say what he wants. I just take care of what's ‘me.’ You know. I don't really care."
He would later say (wink, wink) he didn’t understand the initial reference was to the Dallas coach.
7. PARAYKO KO
Colton Parayko's slapshot has been timed in the 105 mph range, you know, in the Jordan Hicks fastball neighborhood. Ben Bishop felt the full measure of triple digits when he took a Parayko blast to the collarbone in the third period of Game 6 in Dallas. Bishop fell to the ice, momentarily dazed. Alexander Steen shot the loose puck toward the net and Jaden Schwartz deflected it in for a 3-1 Blues lead in what became a 4-1 win. Facing elimination, the Blues returned to St. Louis with the series tied 3-3.
There were complaints by the Stars that play should have been stopped, but not many. Only four seconds passed between Parayko's shot and Schwartz's goal. Bishop was pulled from the game after a Sammy Blais goal 33 seconds later.
“I was just trying to get it around their first guy and find a corner,” Parayko said. “I was shooting to score. I’m never out there to hurt nobody.”
9. MIRACLE IN MANITOBA
After winning twice in St. Louis to tie the series 2-2, Winnipeg was at home in Game 5, leading 2-0 midway through the second period when its potent power-play unit took the ice. . .for four minutes because a Robert Thomas high-sticking penalty drew blood from Jets defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. It looked like the Blues were toast — for the game, and possibly the series.
But the Blues killed off the penalty, and tied the game with third-period goals by Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn. Jaden Schwartz, re-united with Schenn after some line-juggling by Craig Berube, scored with 15 seconds left, batting a Tyler Bozak pass from a foot or two above the ice past Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck for a 3-2 Blues win. Hellebuyck called it a "lucky pinball."
Biggest goal of your career Jaden?
“I’ve got to say yes,” Schwartz replied.
It was the first of 12 postseason goals for Schwartz.
6. PRIDE OF OAKVILLE
If Ben Bishop was hurt in Game 6 of the Dallas series, it didn't show in Game 7. The Chaminade College Prep product was spectacular in a 52-save performance. With average goaltending, the Blues probably win 4-1 or 5-1. Instead it was 1-1 in double-overtime, tense as could be, and with Dallas showing life offensively.
But just when it seemed appropriate to yell "The Blues are Cursed!", Oakville High product Pat Maroon poked in the rebound of a Robert Thomas shot that plopped off the back of Bishop's head to the ice . . . right in front of Maroon. The hockey gods had smiled on Maroon, who had struggled mightily over the first half of the season. On this night, Oakville beat Chaminade and the Blues were headed to the Western Conference finals.
“I wanted it,” Maroon said. “That’s the biggest goal I ever scored.”
And one of the biggest goals in Blues history.
4. THE HAND-PASS GAME
Not that we took a survey or anything, but every hockey fan in North America (outside of San Jose), saw Timo Meier's hand pass propel the puck in the direction of Erik Karlsson in Game 3. Everyone, that is, except the two referees and two linesmen working the game. Jordan Binnington thought someone would blow a whistle, signaling the play dead and waving off Karlsson's game-winning overtime goal.
No one blew a whistle, but the officiating crew did blow the call which the NHL later admitted. Other than general manager Doug Armstrong banging on the door of the officials’ locker room and yelling “(Bleeping) garbage!”, the Blues didn’t come unhinged after the game. They were fuming, but didn’t say a lot. They were down 2 games to 1 in the series. But boy did they regroup, winning the next three games to take the series and outscoring San Jose 12-2 in the process.