The Blues making the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs is the best sports story in St. Louis since the Cardinals shocked the baseball world by winning the World Series in 2006. In more than 40 years of Blues history, it's right up there with the Monday Night Miracle and qualifying for three straight Stanley Cup Finals the first three years the team existed.
Their first round series against the third-seeded Canucks begins Wednesday night in Vancouver. Few if any diehard fans much less hockey experts across the league and in this city believed this was possible. The team had the injury problems, shaky goaltending and an AHL-heavy lineup in December and into early January. But here they are, thanks to weekend wins against Columbus and Colorado in combination with loses by teams just ahead of them in the standings.
According to a Web site called Sports Club Stats, during the 13th week of the season (early January), the Blues had a .7 percent chance of making the playoffs. Go to the site and see the graph where the Blues started out pretty hot, nosedived and then made the steady climb up the hill ending Friday night against Columbus.
On Friday I told you about how the party with the Blue Jackets as the piñata was for the diehard fans. While I still believe that, it was also a nice welcome back to people who may have strayed and been out of the fold since the lockout in 2004-05 and the subsequent dismantling of the team. As the Drinkscotch Center doors gates were opened Friday night, members of ownership, the front office, broadcasters and Blues alumni greeted fans to thank them for a great regular season. Tell me when the Rams or Cardinals would do that?
In talking with fans after the game Friday night and online in the few days since, it's kind of shocking to hear about how happy the fans are for Dave Checketts and his partners. I think there's a realization among people that the Blues surviving and thriving in St. Louis was never a given. They pay more taxes to the city than any St. Louis professional team. They have the smallest fan base, and it's a group that stopped coming, partly out of protest to the former owner and partly out of disgust with what had happened to the team.
Friday was a hot ticket. Most of the hardcore scalpers skipped the Cardinals game down the street and few if any had tickets. One guy walked up and asked one of the street ticket brokers if he had four. The guy who for four seasons probably had four dozen a game laughed. "That's a pretty tall order for tonight." I was introduced to the Blues through a cousin. I learned how to shoot the puck in his basement. He was the most diehard fan I knew. He's been to one game since the lockout, earlier this year when I gave him tickets. He texted me this weekend wanting to know if I had any extras and if I could take him.
Hockey fans in St. Louis adopt the players as their own. Every trade deadline, there's always a sentiment to brings guys back like Craig Conroy. Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk both have been traded and re-signed in short order. Each time fans welcomed both back with open arms. I think fans would even take back a guy like Pavol Demitra who the Blues will see this week in Vancouver (as long as he's not injured). It's why Al MacInnis and Bernie Federko and Jeff Brown and Tony Twist and Reed Low and Kelly Chase and Todd Ewen still live in St. Louis. You wear the Blue Note, wear it with pride and play hard, you'll always have a home in St. Louis. Of that list of retired players who live her in St. Louis, only two actually finished their careers with the Blues (MacInnis and Twist).
This city is ready for the Blues to be a factor again. It was odd going to the grocery store Saturday wearing a Blues shirt. Walking through the front of the market, one checker between weighing bundles of grapes yelled out, "He shoots, he scores! Go Blues" as I walked by. The guy who checked me out started quizzing me about the game and who the Blues would play in the first round. A waiter Saturday night did the same thing.
I don't know if the Blues can win this series and advance or not. The Canucks were only four wins better than St. Louis. On the surface Vancouver scores a little more and defends a little better, but the teams split the four meetings this season with scoring almost equal. I'll have a bigger preview come Wednesday morning.
So dear commenters, tell us about anything you've seen illustrating how St. Louis is becoming a good hockey town again or just your thoughts in general with where we are with this team. Just think, we have until Wednesday to really start worrying again.