A few years ago, the Colorado Avalanche ended the Blues’ slim playoff hopes in the final game of the regular season. Remember that game. Jake Allen was blamed for everything outside the Poplar Street Bridge 24/7 construction, and Vladimir Tarasenko left the game early due to that pesky shoulder. Things soured in the third period as the finality of another hopeful spring march to Lord Stanley fell short. Beers were consumed. More beers were consumed afterwards. I drove most of the sad fans home via Uber, hearing the stories of their dads/mothers/brothers/sisters/friends being addicted to Blues hockey.
Today, the ““Stan Kroenkes” have a chance to eliminate the Blues again, sending them home while other teams march on. It’s like being tossed out of the ring during The Royal Rumble. Wrestling fans will get that reference. It was the most obscene yet entertaining site in the sport, one of their premier events. Every wrestler stuffed into the ring, throwing elbows and kicks at each other, with everyone inside trying to toss the other out of the ring, thus eliminating them.
Sometimes, a big name would bite the dust early. Other times, it was the two biggest stars of the sport who were dead last on the mat. Reminder: Wrestling is rigged, hockey is not. The Blues may be tossed out of the ring today, or they could find a way to extend it. I am at ease with either outcome.
After all, I am just a hockey fan posing as a writer here. When the COVID-19 smoke began to clear and 2021 began, I made a choice to stop writing full-time about hockey. What I found instead, after I pushed away from that “analytical/gotta watch every game and find answers” entrapment, was a love for just watching hockey. I didn’t expect a win every night, just a group of human beings putting their bodies on the line in order to ease their own mind, please fans, and try to reach for the impossible.
Few teams know impossible better than the Blues, perfectly named after a genre of music that sounds terrific yet usually carries a sad tone or ending to its story. This team didn’t raise the Stanley Cup until 50+ years into their existence, a long march to salvation that felt like 150 years of waiting. And now, after all that pondering and anticipation, followed by a day on Market Street that should never be forgotten, Blues fans are asking for another Cup.
And I get it! As diehard Blues fan and St. Louis native Jon Hamm once said in character as Don Draper, all you want after finding happiness is more happiness. It’s a constant in this sport, from both sides of the ice. However, the finality of spring that arrives at hockey’s doorstep never feels cool or warm and fuzzy like a glass of bourbon before noon. It comes off more as a gut shot, something unexpected even if the hardship acquired in collecting Cup run #1 shouldn’t have worn off yet.
I am content. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I didn’t expect this team, especially after watching their play over the first two months of a shortened season, to do much this time. It’s not just the injuries, the refs, a few players not playing to a level that is expected, or Craig Berube’s calculating gum-chewing on the bench; it’s ALL of that shit, thrown into a blender and set to pulse.
Please remember this isn’t a normal season. With one long and hard swing, the pandemic shattered normal like Colton Parayko’s slapshot shatters vulnerable bones located in shoulder compartments. Speaking of #55, what the fuck is he doing out there? That’s not hockey, Colton. He’s playing like Vince Dunn at his worst, only looking like Dolph Lundgren the entire time-but the only thing he is breaking are puck possessions. It’s a jagged, less than whole season. The second in a row.
Think about the players over the past year, shuffling around two countries in order to complete two seasons that should have been labeled F.U.B.A.R. It’s just not normal for anyone.
Bobby Plager passing away earlier this year still doesn’t seem fair. One of the most gentle and sweetest hockey fans would have made this problematic playoff run seem more digestible and comfortable. He would have been pacing behind the suites on Friday night during that 5-1 loss, muttering to himself and to his soul. Without him here, this season doesn’t feel right at all.
This may come out wrong, but Blues fans and their families need time to mourn that guy this summer. Take the time and remember Bobby. The great ones require a tribute that goes deeper than a sticker on an arena face or a series of heartfelt sentiments. Whenever the team does something to drive me nuts, I think about what Plager would say. In a voice that was made for the coolest history teacher, he would talk about “the boys” and how they were doing. Suddenly, all would be better. That’s gone and it still doesn’t feel alright.
Maybe winning the Cup two years ago took the angst right out of my system. Winning the big one can do that, at least for 3-5 years. You ease up on the gas pedal; or you decide not to run your sports mind into a brick wall after each loss. I don’t feel shattered after a loss. The head shakes, the legs move, and I find something else to do. That’s life.
It’s not over. 3-0 isn’t 4-0. The Blues could win today and send the series back to the mountains. Momentum is a fickle thing in this business, and it can turn on a dime with the right victory. Perhaps Tarasenko could rise from the ashes of staleness to produce a couple of old looks at that killer shot. Maybe the Blues can resist allowing the Avs to pile the scoring chances onto Jordan Binnington. He’s standing in front of a goal, not a brick wall.
It’s not all his fault. Blaming the goaltender in hockey is like blaming the head coach for a game he orchestrated from the bench. It’s flat and insincere, a clear sign of homework not being done. It’s EVERYONE’S fault. Berube for his failure to adjust to certain punches and hardships in the season. The pool is colder for a coach when you’re losing. It’s Binnington’s fault for not being as amazing as he was two years ago. It’s Ryan O’Reilly’s fault for not cloning himself in February. It’s Doug Armstrong’s fault for standing pat at the deadline.
Right now, the Blues look like the lesser team-and it’s not even close. They are walking wounded yet playing faulty hockey at the same time. How do you expect them to just turn that around suddenly? If you can’t come up with answers against a team with too many of them, it’s going to be a short series. In a nutshell, the Blues are just being outplayed and outskilled. Simple and annoying, but the truth.
Just don’t lose sleep over it. It’s not a normal year and we should still be able to taste that toasted marinara being dipped in Lord Stanley’s face (all of us lived vicariously through the Maroons that day). The honeymoon from a Cup win isn’t over, even if it faded moderately after Alex Pietrangelo went to the desert. Things are different now, but the team is loaded with young talent.
Jordan Kyrou may be as deadly as Robert Thomas. The team is playing without their buzz saw, Oskar Sundqvist. Tarasenko is a shell of his former self. David Perron is stuck in a quarantined quantum loop, or something. Binnington can’t capture lightning in a bottle. The defensive depth is gone. Anyone seen Jaden Schwartz lately? He has zero points this season, along with a -5 rating. Ivan Barbashev can hit everything that moves, but he’s outnumbered out there. This team doesn’t have anything resembling an enforcer or tough guy. Just an island of misfit toys, but one that won’t do the impossible.
My advice: Appreciate the hockey that is left. As Tom Calhoun eloquently said on Facebook Saturday evening, just take what comes and get ready for more this fall. Whether or not they lose tonight, hockey will return in October. No bullshit. No pandemic holding it back.
The Blues may not win anything this spring, but hopefully fans win some normal back. I’ll take that tradeoff this year. You should too. Go Blues. Long may you run but if you fall, every single fan will be fired up for the next move, game, or win.
That’s sports for you. It takes, you give, and the wheel keeps on turning. But every once in a while, it produces magic. A few years ago, the magic died against Colorado. Two years ago, it was sublime and unbeatable. This year, hope may run out too early again. Next year, it’ll be... who the fuck knows? Just play “Gloria” and close your eyes for a bit.
Thanks for reading and so long for a while,