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Teams That Were Cursed ... Until They Weren’t

On the Run of First-time Champions, Sammy Blais, and the Tarasenko Stutter-step

MLB: World Series-Washington Nationals at Houston Astros
The Nationals are just the most recent in a stretch of first-time champions.
Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

This story originally appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Nov. 1, 2019 edition of the St. Louis Game Time paper, sold outside of every Blues home game. For more information or to subscribe, email gtbradlee@gmail.com

The two most recent champions in major professional sports are both first-time winners: the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Nationals. Not long ago, the Houston Astros won their first World Series and the Kansas City Royals won their first since 1985. The Washington Capitals won the Cup, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl, and for the first time in 108 years, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. I feel like there’s one more notable drought that came to an end recently … just can’t quite put my finger on it. Oh, I’ve got it: In 2015, the Golden State Warriors won their first NBA title since 1975. Silly me, how could I forget that one?

In each of those cases, the fans in those cities would’ve had a hard time believing you if you’d told them, for example, on New Year’s Day, 2010, that their teams would win championships before the end of the decade. All of these teams were some combination of cursed and hapless. The Blues, as we know, were “always missing that one piece,” or “just couldn’t get it done in the clutch,” or “never make it easy on themselves” (as if there are teams out there that go on long playoff runs and never face adversity.) The Blues always had some fatal flaw that kept them from fulfilling their destiny. It manifested itself in Roman Turek, in Gretzky’s turnover, in Dustin Penner’s goal on Brian Elliot from the neutral zone in Game 6 in 2013.

That whole narrative came crashing down over the summer. To me, that’s what we should take from this sudden explosion of first-time winners and drought-busting teams. Sports are random and unpredictable, and the millions of wanna-be psychoanalysts out there who profess doom have some psychological problems themselves. The Blues and the Eagles and the Nationals and the Cubs … they were cursed, until, suddenly, they weren’t. It’s practically a mathematical certainty: Pull the lever long enough and eventually, you’ll hit the jackpot.

Five thoughts from a yellow submarine.

1. Maybe Sammy Blais is David Perron Lite.

We’ve long bemoaned Perron’s penchant for penalties, and to my eye, it seems Blais has that same reckless, sometimes-over-the-line streak in him. His second penalty last night, for example, is the type of unnecessary, obvious, and frankly, potentially dangerous play that he’s got to eliminate.

But while Perron leads the Blues in penalties per 60 minutes of ice time, going back to the start of 2017, Blais (albeit in less ice time), is a good bit down the list. And, in an encouraging sign, Blais has drawn more penalties per 60 minutes since 2017 than any other Blue — enough to make up for his penalty proclivity. Blais likely won’t score as much or as consistently as Perron, but if he can stay out of the box and keep drawing penalties, he doesn’t need to.

2. Jordan Binnington is having trouble controlling rebounds and is allowing some troubling goals. But the numbers are the numbers: He’s sitting pretty with a 91.8 save percentage through 11 games behind a defense that’s allowing a lot of high-quality shots on goal. We’re still about 75 games from having a good read on what he is as an NHL goalie, but for now? Still not nervous.

3. We won’t get to see it for about five months, but long live the Vladimir Tarasenko Stutter-step. You know the one: He’s streaking down the right wing, turns his back toward whatever sucker is defending him, then, with the defenseman off-balance, accelerates past, clears space with his left shoulder, and gets to the net. He tried it against LA last week and didn’t score, but you might remember Game 1 against Dallas, in which he scored the game-winner.

You also might remember these.

4. Before last season began, I thought the Blues’ best bet was to get free-agents-to-be Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panerin from Columbus. It seemed like the most efficient way to address both the porous goaltending and the dearth of scoring. Screw it, I said. That’s the only way this team is gonna win it all. Haha.

5. In Wednesday’s column, I wrote about Ryan O’Reilly chipping pucks on net from the neutral zone, and about the heart attack Jamie Benn gave us by doing it late in Game 7 last year. I didn’t have space to mention an oft-overlooked great moment in Blues history (and maybe the loudest the current arena has ever been.) Game 3, second round, Blues-Wings, 1998. Detroit leads 2-1, less than a minute left. Al MacInnis rips one from center ice past Chris Osgood to force overtime. Listen to that crowd.

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If you enjoyed this story — and even if you didn’t — you should check out my book, Ticketless: How Sneaking Into The Super Bowl And Everything Else (Almost) Held My Life Together.