Hockey

Ben Frederickson: Curse-breaking Blues gave us lessons for life in season for the ages

They needed one more moment.

Instead they made a million.

First came the kiss of O'Reilly. Then the Captain beat The Rat. Brayden Schenn got the big one. Zach Sanford, the Blue who grew up cheering the Bruins, delivered the dagger. And the never-nervous kid watched it all, blinking just once, a wink.

And then, the flood.

Snow angels on the blue line. Blues fans begging ushers to stay a little longer. Cold Bud Lights and hot TV mics picking up celebratory curse words. Euphoria, on ice.

Four to one. From worst, to first, to forever. The St. Louis Blues are champions.

Their names will be engraved into the Stanley Cup, assigned to newborns they will never know, cemented into St. Louis sports lore. Maroon no longer is a color. Kansas City can't touch our Chief.

The team that once punched one another at a practice now dog-piled after throwing their sticks and gloves into the air. Their faces will be framed above bars and on basement walls. Their uniform numbers will be inked into skin. They never will be farther away than one note of "Gloria," one mention of little Laila Anderson, one thought of the calendar year 2019.

Their history will be passed down for generations. They didn't teach us hockey. They showed us how to live.

What is Jordan Binnington, a hero who emerged from thin air, if not a reminder that others only define you if you let them?

"Pretty incredible, man," he said.

What is Ryan O'Reilly, your Conn Smythe Trophy winner whose subtle flip of the stick scored goal one, if not a testament to hard work rewarded?

"Quality, consistently," said O'Reilly's father, Brian, who shared that his son played through cracked ribs.

What is Pat Maroon, the pride of Oakville, Mo., if not a lesson that you really can come home?

"St. Louis, we freaking did it," he said.

Weave them together, and the tapestry of your Stanley Cup champions tell an even more powerful tale.

"Character," owner Tom Stillman said, tears in his eyes. "That's how they will be remembered."

The team with the fewest points in the NHL on the morning of Jan. 3 became the first team in any of the four major sports leagues to rise from last place in the league standings after more than a quarter of the season, then still qualify for the league championship. And on Wednesday night at TD Garden, the Blues did what their predecessors could not: Finish. For the first time since their chase began in the 1967-68 season, the Blues stand alone, unrivaled in their relentlessness and inspiration.

"It's a hell of a story to tell," said captain Alex Pietrangelo, who hustled past an exhausted Brad Marchand to score the second goal. "It's (frankly) unbelievable."

The Blues taught us that sometimes heroes are just waiting to hear their names called. That a true team can achieve the impossible. That the past only holds you back if you let it.

They woke up Wednesday morning cursed, one of just six major sports franchises to reach 50-plus years of existence with zero championships to show for it. No NHL team had suffered like theirs, the leader in games played without a parade.

Their Stanley Cup curse was planted deep, with three sweeps in three trips to the Stanley Cup Final in the first three years of this organization's existence. It grew annually, like rings on a tree, during 41 unsuccessful appearances in the postseason.

Now the ring goes on the finger.

For the fans who waited 51 years, eight months and one day since the Blues played their first regular-season game, rejoice. You cursed and cried and died waiting to witness this, some wearing Blues sweaters to the grave.

You stretched budgets to buy tickets, rooted from bar stools and military bases, and when the Blues ascended, so did you. Enterprise Center filled to the brim for road-game watch parties. So many people wanted to watch Game 7 together, Busch Stadium opened its doors. "Gloria" was played at a Phish concert in St. Louis and at a Cardinals game in Miami.

Someone tell Kroenke.

"Thanks for sticking with us," Stillman said when asked for his message to the fans. "Thanks for believing we would get this done one day. This is for you."

They heard you. They felt you. They hated making you wait. They made it up to you, didn't they?

They went 10-3 on the road in the postseason, becoming the first team to lift the Cup despite a losing postseason record at home (6-7). Amazing.

The scar tissue from countless close calls and so many self-inflicted wounds can begin to heal now. Bobby Orr's leap, the failed sale to Saskatoon, the cruel hand of Judge Edward Houston, the lost years of Laurie, Bob Gassoff's motorcycle accident, Chris Pronger's trade, they finally can be bound in a history book and placed on a shelf. (While we're at it, put the congratulatory advertisements accidentally released early by the Post-Dispatch on the shelf too, will you?)

Let them gather dust. Better yet, drown them in beer.

A seemingly lost bunch that stumbled to a 7-9-3 start went 54-29-6 after GM Doug Armstrong made the decision to fire coach Mike Yeo and promote Craig Berube as interim boss. We doubted Chief. We called for "Coach Q" instead. Forgive us, Chief. Berube's Blues stacked more regular and postseason wins than any other team between his first game and Wednesday's Game 7. He's just the seventh coach to take over midseason and win it all.

"I have a good feeling," Berube said Wednesday morning.

Good call, Chief, and congrats on the incoming contract extension.

Great game, Binnington.

Spinning, sliding, screaming behind his mask, the Blues' goalie turned away Bruin after Bruin, stopping 32 of 33 shots in the game.

Schenn's finish on a Vladimir Tarasenko pass added insurance. Sanford's tap-in of a David Perron pass, a goal he dreamed of scoring for the Bruins in street hockey games as a kid, added more. But Binnington didn't need more.

He made saves in splits, swallowed pucks with his stomach and snapped them shut with his hand. The Blues went 44-19-5 from the 25-year-old rookie's first win through his last, the biggest win in the history of St. Louis sports.

The Blues won a franchise-best 16 postseason games, played a franchise-high 26 and refused to lose back-to-back games in their final 15. They snapped a 2-2 series tie against the Jets in the first round. They overcame a 3-2 deficit against the Stars in the second. They turned a 1-2 disadvantage and one of the worst missed calls in the history of playoff hockey into a pivot point against the Sharks in the third. And then they finished the Bruins in seven, ending St. Louis' four-game losing streak to Boston in title games.

"Battled hard all year," Berube said. "Now you finally get to hoist the Cup, and it's an unbelievable feeling. I'm just proud of our players. They played so hard. They played for each other."

We will remember their lessons forever. The biggest? Deliver on promises made.

It was O'Reilly, the Blues' most consistent player from start to finish, who told beloved Blues legend Bob Plager that he would get him his long-awaited parade.

Market Street, get ready.

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