Tonight is a special night, dear readers. I hope you can join the party.
This final home game of the 2008-09 season is an opportunity, not only for the Blues to clinch a spot in the playoffs but to also celebrate what this team has accomplished and where it is going. A win tonight over the Columbus Blue Jackets and a win for the Minnesota Wild over the Nashville Predators and Blues fans can celebrate at worst an eighth place finish. Amazing.
The organization and the people who watch it have said over the last few dark seasons that the future is bright. More talent and depth was coming. There's no way they thought it would be coming this season.
It is nearly a miracle that we find this version of the St. Louis Blues on the cusp of the postseason. The team made one acquisition in the offseason. Injuries decimated the roster and pushed the team into the all-too familiar cellar of the Western Conference. A last second MLK Day comeback for the ages in Boston gave the Blues a push and the momentum carried the team into February...when last year's All-Star goaltender was demoted to Peoria. And then two months of wonderful, pressure-packed hockey followed. That brings us tonight.
This game, this date with destiny for the Blues, is for you and for me. It's for the season ticket holders who kept the faith through the lockout, the dismantling of the team and the non-playoff years. It's for the people who showed up on Tuesday nights in February against Columbus the last three years. It's for the people who braved the ice storms on game nights since the lockout. You diehards of Blues hockey, you knew who was here when the team finished in last place. You know who you are. This game, this night the Blues can make a triumphant return to the playoffs, it's for us. Bill Laurie can't take it away. It can't get traded to Edmonton. It can't blow a knee in a golf cart. When the team takes to the ice, roar. Scream. Yell your bloody head off. That's exactly what the team leadership wants you to do.
"The arena has been jumping," John Davidson told our friend Bernie Miklasz. "I've never seen Scottrade like this. I'll put the atmosphere right up there with any in the league right now. The fans should know how they energize the players. What the fans are doing can propel the team, and propel the players."
As crazy as the comeback this team has made, think about how the leadership has come together. The owner is a guy from Utah who worked for Madison Square Garden. He wasn't a Blues fan before he got here. But every shot of him in the owner's box and every glance we've taken of him up there, the man is into the game. The same goes with his partners in ownership.
The first hire the ownership made was picking John Davidson as team president. The gray-haired goaltender and former broadcaster had never worked in a front office before, but he was the perfect man for putting a face to a faceless franchise. He gave the team instant charm and personality. What did Davidson do? He kept the embattled Larry Pleau as general manager, the man who allowed Brett Hull to walk, the man who traded Chris Pronger. Granted Hull didn't mesh with the head coach at the time and Pleau was ordered to trade Pronger, but that didn't change the fans' perception of Pleau and the job he had done. Together, Pleau, Davidson, the scouting staff and the rest of the front office followed through with a promise to build from within, a plan put in place but never fully followed several times by this organization through the years.
They fired Mike Kitchen and hired Andy Murray, a guy with an interesting reputation. He coaxed a lot out of his Los Angeles Kings teams during his time, but they never really performed in the playoffs. The man is a maniac with exact schedules and mind games. He's called guys out in the press, put high profile rookies on the fourth line with Cam Janssen. Some predicted the gravely-voiced Murray wouldn't survive to see spring. Instead he's gaining support for the Jack Adams award given to the coach of the year. He has every line playing well, the entire team buying into his message and his system. The Blues play as hard as any team in the league (sometimes minus the first five minutes of the game). They play physical and wear the other team down. The conditioning is excellent, the power play light years ahead of last year's version.
Honest question: what is more surprising, the team being in this position or this collection of people pulling this off behind the scenes so fluidly? No disrespect to anyone in the organization, but the team's approach was unorthodox at best. That's part of the reason why The Hockey News picked the Blues to finish last in the Western Conference.
For a team to be successful, it takes everyone working together going the same direction. And it's not just the players and coaches. It's the equipment guys, the trainers and the team dentist. It's the sales people, the media guys and secretaries. They're all a part of this and will relish tonight as much as any of us.
Alright Blues fans. This is it. Time to take the playoffs back. Check in. Who's going? Who's going to be here? Who's going to have a heart attack?
Come back for more later today.