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Pain That Cannot Forget

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Jonathan Toews once broke our hearts. But now that the Blues have won the Cup, we can forgive — just not forget.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Minnesota Wild David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

This story first appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Feb. 25, 2020 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

That 2014 first-round series had been full of emotional swings. First, there was the build-up to a St. Louis-Chicago playoff series, which we hadn’t seen in more than a decade. There was the fact that Chicago was the defending champion, and had won the Cup twice in the previous four seasons; that the Blues had their best team in years (111 points remains their high-water mark since the President’s Trophy team of 1999-2000); and they had gone all-in at the trade deadline to acquire the one thing the Blues had always lacked, come playoff time: an elite goaltender.

There was Game 1 in St. Louis, and all the red that came along with it. The Blues were dead in the water, until Jaden Schwartz forced OT with less than two minutes left. We got two full, back-and-forth, playoff, heart-in-your-throat overtimes, in which Chicago had two clean breakaways. Early in the third, Alexander Steen won it. In Game 2, the Blues forced OT even later: Vladimir Tarsenko scored with 6.4 seconds left. Of all people, Barret Jackman scored the winner.

After a devastating loss like that, and with a 2-0 deficit in the series, there was no way Chicago was coming back. Except they did. They started by winning a low-scoring battle in which the decisive goal came early, on a squeaker through Ryan Miller’s five-hole. In Game 4, Chicago tied and won in OT a game the Blues had in the bag after Tarasenko scored a late go-ahead goal. Chelsea Dagger was living rent-free in our heads.

The series came back to St. Louis, but now, there was no way the Blues — suddenly the same old, sorry, mentally fragile Blues — were going to swing the tide back in their favor. Chicago scored first, but T.J. Oshie tied the game from his knees on one of the prettiest, coolest goals you never hear about.

(We’ll never stop seeing Alex Ovechkin’s goal from his back against the Coyotes, but when you consider that Oshie’s was a damn playoff goal, for my money, it was more impressive.)

Again, we went to OT — this time, for a 3-2 lead in the series. I only remember sitting and staring at the ice from my seat as the crowd filed out. Eventually, I rolled up my Game Time paper, whipped it in frustration against the railing as I walked down the stairs, and never could bring myself to watch the replay.

I can watch it now. When the Blues won the Cup — yes, they really did that! — the pain of that moment no longer was a soul-crushing blow. It became a stepping stone to the glory of the Cup win. Here are five of the most painful goals the Blues have ever given up, as reflections of my life fill my eyes. [Trigger warning: The following might cause severe trauma. But it’s ok. The Blues are Cup Champions.]

1. The Toews breakaway in Game 5.

It was a bad line change for the Blues, sure. But Duncan Keith blindly cleared a rebound that, in most cases, bounces harmlessly off the boards and out of the zone. This time, Alexander Steen’s shin pad deflected it right to Toews.

2. Steve Yzerman. Nothing more needs to be said.

3. Owen Nolan on Turek.

The President’s Trophy-winning Blues had clawed back from a 3-1 series deficit to force Game 7 at home. Roman Turek finished second in the Vezina voting that year. None of it mattered when Nolan scored from center ice, although it’s worth noting that San Jose already led 1-0 in the game.

4. Willi Plett from 75 feet.

In Game 7 of the second round, Mark Reeds had just scored a shorthanded goal to give the Blues a lead over the Minnesota North Stars with 5:54 left in the third period. The Blues’ first Conference Final appearance in 14 years was in sight. Fifteen seconds later, Plett “carried the puck from inside his blue line, across center ice, and beat [Mike] Liut with a 75-foot shot to the glove side,” as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. If you can find video of this one, please reach out — I’d love to see it. Minnesota won early in OT. Here’s Steve Payne’s winner:

5. Stephane Yelle in 2001.

In the Blues’ first Conference Final appearance in 15 years, they trailed 2-1 in the series to the mighty Colorado Avalanche. The Avs had built a 3-0 lead in Game 4 on another Turek meltdown (he gave up three soft goals in 1:18), but the Blues stormed back to force OT. In the previous game’s overtime session, Yelle had missed a wide-open net before Scott Young won it for the Blues.

Yelle didn’t miss in Game 4, and it all but ended the Blues’ season.

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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.