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From The Cellar to The Cup: The story of the 2018-19 Blues

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Bobby Plager asked and received his wish

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

I thought about my dad first.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock at the Garden in Boston, I thought about watching the St. Louis Blues for the first time with my dad and brother back in 1988. Brett Hull had just arrived, stolen our hearts, and wouldn’t give them back for a decade.

Back then, the Stanley Cup wasn’t in a young kid’s vision. I was six years old. All you cared about was goals, hot dogs, and a soda at the game. Trading cards, jerseys, and more goals. You didn’t even give a piece of your mind to the ultimate prize. Being a sports man is a maturation process that takes years, marinating from adoration of a player, to a team, and finally, to winning the title.

It took over 2,500 games for the Blues to win a Cup since that first puck drop back in 1988. A lot of heartbreaking rides, depressing falls, and outright nasty defeats. The Blues made the playoffs over 40 times before they could reach the Stanley Cup Final and actually win a game. They did it in the most Blues’ way possible too, going from the cellar to the history books. Since I don’t have Bono here to sing it, allow me. The Blues were dead last on Jan. 2, and decided to get their shit together.

I wrote them off while hundreds of fans started looking up Jack Hughes on the internet. Pat Maroon was on his way out of town. Gloria was buried in the editing room of Julianne Moore’s latest film, called Gloria Bell. The Blues hadn’t made it to Philadelphia yet to fall in love with the tune. Things were looking dire, and it got so bad, the sell sign was being considered, and that included Vladimir Tarasenko. Like I said, it got bad.

Slowly, but surely, the team put down the shovel and climbed out of the hole. A three game winning streak seemed like hot gravy on top of mashed potatoes, but then the team won eight in a row. Nine. Ten. Eleven. It was like the season became a comic book. No one could keep up. Stories were deleted, draft folders thrown out, and around town, people started thinking a playoff run was possible.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about the last spot being a small chance for the Blues to park their beat down Corolla into. It was possible. There was Lloyd Christmas banging Lauren Holly and then the Blues playing in the second week of April. They did better than that.

They had a new head coach getting his wings underneath him. A new goaltender with a chip on his shoulder called “I had to wait until Ville Husso wasn’t good or hurt.” They had center depth with Ryan O’Reilly coming over from Buffalo to join up with Brayden Schenn. Everything was pitiful around Christmas in St. Louis, but right now in the middle of June, I can hear fireworks.

The Blues finished third in the Central Division with 99 points, claiming 30 wins in 2019 alone. The rest has been written so much lately, so let’s just run through. Winnipeg tried and failed. Dallas tried and got beat. San Jose tried, caught some breaks, and failed. Boston came, tried to conquer, and got thrown out. The Bruins cried, but so did thousands of Blues fans.

I can’t believe it. I’m sitting here plowing through this thing trying to contain comprehension. My dad just called and we breathed through a conversation. I’m going on SB Nation radio here in a few minutes to discuss it. There aren’t a proper set of words to describe the feeling of a team you have watched, covered, and sweated over for 30 years win the ultimate prize.

It’s surreal and wildly magical. Rock bottom was December when the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Blues 6-1 and closed Enterprise Center down to the dull roar of a paper cup hitting the ground. The Penguins were good, but the Blues had won five of eight games and were starting to come out of it. The Pens pounded them, and the next night, New York came in and won 2-1. That was low.

The “this is for real” point was beating Nashville twice inside 36 hours. You can play well, and still lose twice to the Predators in a weekend. The Blues overwhelmed them in the first game in St. Louis and stormed back to win the second game in Nashville. Smack dab in the middle of the winning streak, that was the for real moment. The moment where it started to crystallize.

Here’s the thing about sports: reactions can be weird. Some people shout while others just go ballistic. When the final seconds ticked off, I merely sat there and smiled. The recognition settled in, but I wasn’t running around the room. There have been several moments where I just sat there calm and collected after a big moment or win. Maybe it’s the long wait. Perhaps I am just a calmer fellow in my older age. I can’t describe it. It’s still sinking in. When the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, I also sat there in quiet, concentrated jubilation. Some people scream. I sit and wonder.

No one thought this was possible. National media latched on to the wonderful Laila Anderson story, but not much else in St. Louis. They clung to those advertising dollars in Boston up until the very end. Right when the inevitable started to become a reality, as the Blues scored their fourth goal of the night, all the media gathered around the St. Louis fire. They grabbed a stick and helped stoke the flame. Yeah, come on fucking in, pals. Make yourself at home.

I’m happy for Craig Berube. He was an assistant coach heading into the season, angling for another shot at the top job. He was a million to one shot to be a Jack Adams award candidate and champion coach.

I’m happy for Binnington. He played out of his mind tonight. It wasn’t just saves in the first 30 minutes; he was making wow stops. Post to post, sprawling out, composed glove work, and just bossing around the puck like they belonged to his gym. He owned the night, the same thing he did with the net since January.

I’m happy for Vladimir Tarasenko. How many times has he smiled wide on the bench with Darren Pang talking about bringing St. Louis a Cup? A dozen at least. It happened. He did it. He put up another double-digit marker in goals this postseason.

I’m happy for Alex Pietrangelo. The Captain who many think is overrated had an unbelievable postseason. How about the deft stick work on goal #2 in Game 7? As Brad Marchand went for some cheese on the bench, Petro put some fuel into the net, slowly burning down hope in Boston.

I’m happy for Jay Bouwmeester. Over 1,200 games in this league and finally a Cup. He turned his season around, going from Old Man Bo to something called reliable.

I’m happy for Alexander Steen. He swallowed his pride, went to the fourth line, and hustled his way to accountability in a season where his point total wasn’t much to write home about. Some players would have balked. He didn’t.

I’m happy for Ryan O’Reilly. A year ago, he was cleaning out his locker in Buffalo, unsure of his next destination. Bobby Plager handed him a jersey in July, telling him to bring a Cup to St. Louis. The owner of the Conn Smythe Trophy did just that.

I’m happy for many of my media pals. Jeremy Rutherford. All those stories, deadlines, late flights, shitty hotel rooms, and missed family time to write and cover this team. Now, you get to write about a Cup winner.

I’m happy for Dave Rapp, who has covered the Blues for over a decade. Brad Mudd, who has spent countless hours putting together a paper for fans.

I’m happy for Laila Anderson, who kicked cancer’s ass and got to see her team win the Cup. The stories she’ll have to tell her kids when she is older. Interviewing Colton Parayko, addressing the crowd, traveling with the team, watching Game 7 in Boston. That’s a book right there.

I’m happy for Bobby Plager. A Blue for life. He can stop pacing the hallway for a little while.

I’m happy for Brett Hull. He got me into hockey, as he did many others in this town. The Golden Brett who looked like a Forest Park softball player but could bury the one timer and slap shot with the ease of a knight. His exit from the franchise was bittersweet, which made his return all the more savory. Seeing him get lit, cheer on his team, and smile like a proud papa of the pastime that is Blues hockey.

I’m fucking happy for all of you. The FANS. Blood, sweat, and tears for decades. The men and women in their 50’s and 60’s who thought this day would never come. They joked about dying before seeing it happen. I’m happy for the old couple sharing a bottle of wine and a dance right now.

I’m just happy. No alcohol yet, but I think I will go pour myself a drink. Take it in. 1,600 words seems like enough to start the thought process.

Thanks for reading and remember, “hey buddy, we’re here!”