Playoff hockey takes me back to a happy place in my childhood.
When I was growing up off Kingshighway and Tholozan, I would follow my older brother, Bryan, everywhere.
When you are the younger sibling, the older bro is the essential guide for chaos and coolness, the center of the galaxy when it comes to adventure. I’d play pickup hockey with him in the abandoned Famous Barr parking lot, battle him in NHL ‘93, and combat him with Brett Hull when he developed a crush on Jeremy Roenick’s play.
At the heart of it was a shared adoration for hockey and everything about it, connecting the ties that bind between two brothers in South City. As a teenager in Brentwood, I watched the Blues defeat the Stars in the playoffs over 15 years ago with Bryan. We screamed often, scaring the rich folks populating our neighborhood. It was the best of times.
Somewhere along the line, we lost that. Over the past decade plus, Bryan and I have become disbanded. There are a variety of reasons, none of which I need to get into here without losing your attention. As the great Davos says on HBO’s Game of Thrones, nothing fucks you harder than time. It takes away so many things, chief among them, interactions with people you love that aren’t the easiest to connect with. Some things can’t be explained in life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.
Over the past couple of weeks, something great happened. I’m watching playoff hockey with my brother again. For a handful of playoff games in my dad’s cigar lounge, I have sat next to Bryan, cheering on the Blues and hoping they continue to confound the hockey mind with their improbable run this year. Bryan is a smart fan, resisting the urge to scream “shoot” every ten seconds, and knowing the inter-workings of the game.
We don’t talk much during the game, but there are moments when I stare over at him for a brief second, and I smile with joy. I know that there are many families across the city of bleeding heart hockey fans who don’t get this opportunity, including many who would trade anything for it, so I appreciate every damn second. The game concludes, we exasperate any unused air and energetic influence from our body, and I drive Bryan home to his house nearby. Nothing is said on the way, but there we are, driving down the road after a fierce Blues battle.
I’ll be watching Game 7 tomorrow with my brother in the lounge. People who are easily offended shouldn’t come near it. We curse, say things that would get us thrown off the radio or local news networks, and generally keep the volume near max. Our lovely mother, Beth, just puts up with three grown men shouting at a game they can’t control. She even puts the game on in the kitchen, so as we are reloading on whiskey or beer, there’s the game. She’s truly the best.
My dad, cigar in hand, screams, “what the fuck are they doing?” It’s a valid question that can be attached to this team on any given night. What are the Blues doing? When they aren’t driving their fans nuts, the squad has managed to win seven playoff games so far. Whimsical, unconventional, and wholly insane, this team finds new ways to break and mend a heart within 48 hours.
After playing two of their worst games of the playoffs, losing Games 4 and 5 to push their backs against the wall on Sunday, the Blues handled Dallas easily in a 4-1 win that evened the series and set up sudden death, winner-take-all action on Tuesday. On this website, I wrote them off in a way. No, I didn’t give up completely, but I doubted their chances like any sane hockey fan. Or any Blues fan who knows this team’s history like the street they grew up on.
And yet again, the Blues pushed back against the expected. They did it by passing the puck more crisply, refusing to allow the Stars to sustain pressure in St. Louis’ zone, and getting some big efforts from Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo, Joel Edmundson, and of course, Jordan Binnington. Sammy Blais coming back and blasting one past Ben Bishop, who took a scud missile off his collarbone from a Colton Parayko slap shot.
You see how I named a lot of defensemen in that last paragraph? Well, they were mostly shit in the past few games, but they stepped up on Sunday.
How will Tuesday go? Place your bet and do it blind. Vladimir Tarasenko needs to show up in a big way, as does Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Alex Pietrangelo. Getting something from Ivan Barbashev would be nice. The game could start, and Game 4 could begin. Or perhaps Game 3. Nobody knows. The Blues have been more successful on the road than at home, but they did eliminate the Winnipeg Jets at The Enterprise Center, so maybe they have it in them.
No matter what, I’ll be watching with my brother, just like the old days. The Blues can win or lose, but I’ll still come out on top.