Wednesday night, in a city known for stories of massacres, of rebellious acts, and of tragedy and triumph, we witnessed the conclusion of another tale. This doesn’t have the magnitude of our founding fathers or of the marathon bombing, but this is a story that should be told for centuries to come.
The St. Louis Blues are Stanley Cup Champions in 2019, and it is the most impressive feat I have ever seen in professional sports, and I am not sure it will be topped.
I want to preface that claim by stating that I am a diehard Chicago Blackhawks fan. I was a massive Bruins fan for the past couple weeks. There was nothing I wanted to see more than the Blues suffer a heart-wrenching loss in Game 7 followed by another half-century of irrelevance. However, as Mick Jagger so eloquently stated, you can’t always get what you want.
While in St. Louis for a weekend back in November, I decided to catch a Blues game against the Minnesota Wild, a 5-1 loss. What I saw resembled a high school team in which half the kids only played to get out of gym class. It was a downright embarrassing performance from a last-place team.
The radio on the way back from the stadium was chock-full of fans calling for blood, for the head of coach Mike Yeo and GM Doug Armstrong on a stake hanging from the arch. But again, as fans of a last place team who just went through a professional hockey game averaging a shot on goal every 3:45, it was understandable.
Never in my wildest dreams could I consider the fact that the Blues would be anywhere but the top of the lottery, nevertheless the top of the hockey world. However, against all odds, Alex Pietrangelo raised the Stanley Cup over his head just seven months later.
Last season we saw the remarkable journey of the Vegas Golden Knights, a team made up solely of, by definition, third and fourth liners. They won the Western Conference, but they fell to the hands of Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals. They were also one of hockey’s best teams from wire-to-wire.
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What the Blues just pulled off tops that, rather easily. First of all, they completed the job. They did something that Vegas couldn’t, every hockey team’s sole objective, to win it all. They also had every reason to give up on the season, yet never did.
Only once in NHL history had an interim coach won the Stanley Cup, and that instance looked a lot different. The Devils fired Robbie Ftorek with eight games remaining in the regular season back in 2000, and Larry Robinson took over the third-best team in the league.
Mike Yeo was fired on November 19, with only the Kings having fewer points. The Blues were the worst team in the league when the calendar turned to the year 2019. Yet, despite all odds, they won the Stanley Cup.
Craig Berube, their new boss, led the team to 82 points in 63 games. Yeo had them playing at a 73 point pace. Berube? A 106 win pace, despite an inauspiciously mundane 8-9-1 start to his tenure. They did just enough to sneak into the playoffs, with a furious midseason comeback that included a franchise-record 11 game win streak. A 30-10-5 stretch that let them climb into the playoffs third place in the division. And the rest is history.
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The only coach in professional sports history to do something resembling what Berube did was Jack McKeon, who took over the 16-22 Florida Marlins in 2003, winning the World Series. That Marlins team, however, wasn’t even worst in the division at that time, nevertheless next to last in the entire league.
Even the 2008 New York Giants, the epitome of sports’ David taking down Goliath, was 6-2 at the halfway point of the season. Leicester City, the team that needed a crazy lucky winning streak to even stay in the Premier League the year before they won it, was never lower than sixth in the table. The Blues being the worst team in the league on January 1 before going to win it all is completely unprecedented.
The St. Louis Blues were thought of, coming into the season, as one of the worst teams in the league. Quite frankly, they proved everyone who said that right. They were one of the worst teams in the league for a long time. And then suddenly they weren’t.
It seems as if he will probably have a fantastic career in the NHL, but if he doesn’t, the name Jordan Binnington should still never be forgotten. Binnington, only 25 years of age, was the spark plug that started all of this. Jake Allen was a big part of the problem in St. Louis, and Binnington was anything but.
Their crazy hot stretch, which started with a win over Philadelphia on January 7th, coincided with Binnington’s NHL debut. Perhaps more than anyone else in sports history, the rookie completely carried the team all the way to the title. There is no precedent for what the Blues did, but there is absolutely nothing close to what Binnington did.
I would have never thought, after seeing an expansion franchise come just games away from winning the cup, I would be wowed like that again. St. Louis more than did that. This is more impressive than what Vegas did because this is more unbelievable.
Vegas had a hall of fame goaltender, a former Jack Adams finalist behind the bench, and a ton of talented skaters who were only made better. St. Louis had the talented skaters, but they had a rookie goalie and an interim coach, not to mention a chasm to climb to even make the playoffs. And they did it.
This isn’t quite Miracle on Ice, but this is the next best thing. This blows Vegas out of the water. This is more impressive than Leicester City. This is the greatest professional sports underdog story ever, and I don’t think we will ever appreciate the magnitude of what we saw conclude Wednesday night.
So, I salute you, St. Louis Blues. Even though you made me really disappointed last night, I respect you, and I will never forget your miraculous, magical, 2019 season.