Having the best intentions can get you in trouble emotionally in the world of sports.
Heading into Saturday’s Game 3, St. Louis sports fans thought the Blues had the Boston Bruins right where they wanted them. The pregame atmosphere coupled with the momentum from Game 2 started writing a story that ended with a parade on 14th and Clark.
And then Boston shit on that thoughtful parade with a 7-2 beatdown that stained the glass of The Lou for two days. Sunday became bloody in a way, and it wasn’t just for the amount of Bloody Mary’s consumed at brunch. A painful reality started to creep in. While they were still here, were the Blues on the outside looking in with a heavy talent like Boston weighing down on them?
The boys in blue gave an answer on Monday night, winning 4-2 and evening the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece. More importantly, they won their first game in the Final on St. Louis soil. After going winless in three straight trips back in the late 1960’s, they achieved that milestone in their second try.
Ryan O’Reilly picked up the sword early on, making the first stab and the final one of the night. You see, for the entire playoff run, many have wondered if the centerman was 100%. Was O’Reilly playing with an injury? The lack of punch on the face-off dot, the loss of battles in the corner, and the general lack of “get there” on plays. Saturday night, you would have thought you were looking at an old man. While O’Reilly scored a point, he didn’t have a good game. Monday, he flipped the table over, executing a wicked wraparound score 43 seconds into the game, and breaking a late 2-2 tie with a rebound push past Tuukka Rask.
It was O’Reilly’s first two goal game since November 16th, which was shortly after Mike Yeo was sent packing. The guy who was brought into as the missing piece ended up being just that for the Blues in their quest to win a Stanley Cup Final game in this city. Don’t get me wrong. The Carl Gunnarsson winner in Boston was sweet action, but the noise and pandemonium that was coming out of Enterprise Center on Monday was unreal.
As I watched the action unfold in my home with a seven year old next to me, I was overwhelmed with a weird calm. Instead of jumping out of my bed (and head) when O’Reilly scored the third goal, I remained seated, drowning in thought instead of screaming in exhilaration. I was happy, but may have had a hard time believing what I just saw. It’s like dreaming with one eye open: sometimes you simply aren’t sure.
You see, no matter how you play this next week in your head, disbelief will not leave the room. Due to 52 years of trying and failing, it lives there in your head like an unwelcome guest who demands food, housing, and Wifi 24/7. You can’t make it leave or destroy it. Wherever the Blues go this spring, the nagging disbelief that they won’t make it sneaks into the good time parade.
Every time the Blues have run into a wall, I think it’s over. When the Stars were up 3-2. When the Stars wouldn’t go away. When the Sharks were getting away with shit. When the Bruins obliterated Jordan Binnington, the defense, and the entire building on Saturday. In my eyes, doubt put on a suit and drank all my booze.
And then the Blues fought back, found a way to persevere, and turned the tables. Every time you think the bus will be driven down that same dirt road, the Blues re-route the course and find a new road. It’s surreal, utterly bizarre, and I am still getting used to it.
Here’s the thing. With two more wins, the Blues will hoist their first Stanley Cup. Many have listed out the ex-players and alumni that the team needs to win it for. Others have said the players need to do this for themselves. All of that is true, but they need to do it for this city. St. Louis doesn’t need to prove itself to the rest of the world. Trust me, every time a National event takes place here, the roof is blown off and impressions are made. The 2009 All Star Game at Busch Stadium, the Winter Classic at Busch, and next year, the NHL All Star Game.
However, the lurking doubt would be eliminated from thousands of minds in this town. The cynicism about the Stanley Cup and how this team lacks one. The chip that has sat on the shoulder of this town since Scotty Bowman left to go win a Cup with Montreal less than three years after failing to do so in St. Louis will disappear. St Louis deserves a fucking cup, damn it.
With each win, the cynicism and doubt falls by the wayside, and a new belief system takes its place. After the win, into the wee hours of the morning, I drove around my city watching people celebrate in the streets, sing “Gloria,” and just smile. I drove a young man who will be drafted into the NHL in two weeks back to the Hyatt. His name was Kirby Dach, and he was brought to the Enterprise Center along with other upcoming prospects to watch Game 4. He said it was a true experience and that St. Louis was a good town. He also said he will be back.
That’s thing about St. Louis. People like to talk down about its appeal and value, but deep down, they can’t deny its appeal. They keep coming back. It’s not just people from the outside that wonder if this city, and its hockey team, have what it takes to be champions. The fan base has its doubts, but like the Bruins on the ice, are being humbled with each unbelievable win.
I didn’t expect the Blues to get this far. 14 wins and 2 to go. What in the fuck is going on? I can’t explain it without a headache. I would like to add another memorable Game 6 to the list of St. Louis triumphs though. The Blues will play at least two more games and six more periods. Can they finish the job? Can they prove so many diehard yet quietly doubtful Blues fans wrong?
Jon Hamm was on hand Monday night, and it got me thinking about one of his best roles. It was playing FBI agent Frawley in Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” an excellent cops and robbers Boston opus. In it, Hamm is trying to catch Affleck’s crew. At one point, he says, “This is the not fucking around crew, so get me something that looks like a print, because this not fucking around thing is about to go both ways.”
Hey Blues: Join the not fucking around crew please.
The best intentions can be a dangerous thing to carry in sports, but at the same time, it sure does make you feel alive.
Now if you would excuse me, I need a cold shower after a long night.