The 2018-2019 St. Louis Blues weren’t supposed to make the playoffs, at least not when you looked at the mid-season standings (they were considered a playoff lock before the season, so were they really an underdog?). Dead last in the league, they roared back into the spotlight in January, had a Cinderella run through the playoffs, and the rest is history.
In 2008-2009, the Blues weren’t quite as bad off standings wise, but they still weren’t expected to make the playoffs. They’d been outside of the bubble since 2004, going through some of the worst seasons that the franchise had seen for years. The upshot of that is that the Blues were able to hoard some stellar young talent. Former first-overall pick Erik Johnson was the new model on a very veteran, very blue-collar blue line featuring Barret Jackman, Eric Brewer, Mike Weaver, Jay McKee, Roman Polak, and Jeff Woywitka.
Then Erik Johnson had his disastrous golf cart accident and didn’t play a single game the whole season.
On offense, they had the Kid Line of TJ Oshie, Patrik Berglund, and David Perron, micromanaged to oblivion by Andy Murray. Luckily, the team also had Andy McDonald, yet to be completely broken by concussion. They had Brad Boyes, who had 33 goals on the season; David Backes had a powerhouse 31 goal campaign. Keith Tkachuk, who was aging, still had a 25 goal, 24 assist year by the end of the regular season in April of 2009.
They had a ton of talent who wanted to prove themselves to the rest of the league, and they had players that needed to prove to the NHL that they existed to begin with. There was motivation there in spades. What there wasn’t, at least not initially, was a clear method of using it.
It’s tough to start a year down your top defenseman to a stupid and very avoidable accident, and it doesn’t help to have McDonald injured for two months. Then, you have starting goaltender Manny Legace - who was in the 2008 All Star Game just months before - falling over Sarah Palin’s red carpet and injuring his groin. ESPN has a great retrospective of the night that Ben Bishop got called into action, and with the hindsight of more than a decade, it makes for a good story. For the season, though, it was a gut punch. Legace missed five games but his entire season was shot. By February, he was waived by the team and headed to Peoria.
In the midst of this mess, John Davidson figured that the team needed a shot in the arm and some defensive support, so the general manager traded Lee Stempniak to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and forward Alexander Steen. The team still faltered through the All Star Break, until the return of McDonald in February after missing two and a half months with a broken leg. Having one of the team’s best offensive players (he finished the year 15 goals and 29 assists in 46 games) sparked the team. With help from Chris Mason in the crease, the team snapped back in February with a 6-2-4 record on the month.
They were still only a slightly above .500 team by the end of the month, and were three points out of the last playoff spot. The Blues flirted with the playoffs through the first half of March, but it took an incredible 6-1 run from March 20th through April 2nd to nudge them up into 8th place. The icing on that run’s cake was David Backes netting four goals against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings on April 2nd.
It took until April 10th, their second to last game of the season, to clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. This wasn’t a last minute, sneak in at 8th overall kind of win. The Blues finished the season in 6th place in the Western Conference, setting them up with the 100 point Vancouver Canucks for round one.
The Blues were swept out of the playoffs that year, their underdog tale done. They wouldn’t make the playoffs again for two more seasons. Some thought that the end of the season run tired the team out - that the young players didn’t know how to pace themselves, and the old players didn’t have the gas in the tank needed for a long playoff run.
Whatever the reason, it’s hard to deny that the Blues that year went from an also ran to a team to keep your eye on. They reminded the NHL that, after years near the bottom of the standings, they were still relevant and dangerous.
Fans last season should’ve let the hope of 2008-2009 remind them that, in 2018-2019, anything was possible.