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The Glor(ia) of it Was in the Wait

June 13, 2019, 11:31 AM ET [4 Comments]
Jay Greenberg
Blogger •NHL Hall of Fame writer • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Red Sox have won it all four times since the turn of this century. Who ever would ever have thought? The Cubs finally had their year and now are just another big spending team easier to root against than for.

LeBron came back to get Cleveland one finally before moving on again, thank you very much for dropping by. And now my eyes have seen the glory of 75-year old Bob Plager lifting the Cup and with such ease that you know brother Barclay was supplying some of the muscle from above.

So who’s next? The Los Angeles Clippers? The New York Jets? Probably, the way things are going. Grown men wept Wednesday night when the Blues finally won the Stanley Cup, the last of the surviving Second Six to do it. If only those Seals could have hung in there for just 43 short years, it could have been them, too. That’s really the going rate of perseverance for the meek dreaming of inheriting the earth.

“If they don’t do this, I’m going to die like a Cubs fan born in 1920,” wrote my University of Missouri college roommate Bob, who is 68, before Game Seven. “In my lifetime, are they ever going to get another chance?”

Thirty-one NHL teams going on 32 mitigates against it. Self-pity of New Englanders built the myth of the Curse of the Bambino, and the teams in the inevitable next wave of championship droughts will drum up more supposed jinxes as the years go by. But really, opportunities to win have become thinner than was Sid the Third’s patience, so misery has plenty of company. Take a seat please in the waiting room. We will call you, perhaps when you least expect it.

So this Game Seven probably was the most do-before-I-die since the Rangers won for the first time in 54 years in 1994. Man-oh-man, Blues fans of a certain age would have traded a kingdom (or Joey Mullen for five nobodies, which their team once did) for that first goal. After hanging by Jordan Binnington’s pinky for almost the entire first period, the first St. Louis chance went in, followed in close proximity to the second one going in too. Was this really happening?

Only an illegal curvature or too-many-men-on-the ice penalty was going to trip up the Blues now, but you don’t have to be as old as Zdeno Chara to know these things can be arranged. We have seen enough to know we have seen too much. Good management and clutch performances gets you close but fate in the form of posts, double deflections, own goals and this year especially, blown calls, takes it from there.

For the Bruins, falling off a cliff in slow motion, this was the reverse of how they got ahead early in Game Seven in 2011 at Vancouver to breeze to a 4-0 win and a first title since 1972. If you are tired of Boston teams winning there is some justice in that, one supposes, and also in the power play that fueled this finals drive shriveling up to just one, failed, opportunity in Game Seven. Next time, your favorite local NHL correspondent writes that your failing team has to get the power play going, say to yourself, “No. They don’t.” The Blues were one-for-18 in the final and only 16 per cent for four rounds

In the end, they won by the inverse–staying out of the box, committing just one minor in Game Seven. Once the Blues killed that, it turned out that Boston, so reliant on their five-on–four and even a five-on-three to get the critical first goal in Game Six, was dead. With size not sacrificing mobility on defense and a fourth line bringing as much energy as the first, the Blues were built to play with a lead.

Reprieved by Jordan Binnington from a turnover-prone, nervous-looking, start, they knew what to do from there, inevitably cashing putaway chances once the Bruins were forced to gamble. Up 2-0 after one period, what’s 40 minutes of watching the clock tick down, chip out by chip out, when you’ve waited 51 years for the opportunity?

Alex Pietrangelo was so good, Ryan O’Reilly so clutch and Craig Berube, who really got the shaft when the Flyers let him go a year after he had rescued one of their disastrous start too, was so deserving of another opportunity to now become a St. Louis icon. Yep, will never have to buy a drink in the West End for as long as he lives. Imagine, The Chief and David Freese. Couldn’t happen to two more likable guys.

Soon after taking over for Mike Yeo, Berube conducted a tough love meeting, telling the Blues they had to be more predictable to each other on the ice. He got Vladimir Tarasenko to buy in, turned to a goalie the organization had dumped into the mushroom room, just like Berube had been dumped himself in his first head coaching opportunity in Philadelphia.

A lot has been made of the Blues being last in the league on January 3 and probably not enough has been made of them being only the third team (Canadiens, Rangers and Hurricanes) since 1971 to win the Cup after missing the previous year’s playoffs. But the bulk of this defense-the true strength of the team–was a Cup semifinalist just three years ago and the way the Blues played through March, they went into the playoffs with as good a chance to win it all as anybody but Tampa Bay,

Tarasenko was an unusually lonely star on a Cup winner—usually it takes a second game breaker to swing the matchups—but O’Reilly produced like one in the playoffs, and the Blues came at you and at you and at you. You can come back now, Harvey Bennett, size still matters. Besides, the style of team you have is not as important in the end as realizing exactly what kind of team you have and playing to your strengths. It’s a game of great swings. Through the mental grind of the eight-week run it takes to win it all, the Blues were themselves again immediately after the inevitable clunkers.

We would go on and on and on about the Barbashevs and Sundqvists and all the guys who gave a team of mid-level offensive talent its required depth of effort. But just like for Brad Marchand on the second St. Louis goal, our shift us up and its time to get off. Going to go pour one and lift it to the Blues.

Bidding you–and the 2018-19 season–adieu in the belief that the San Jose Sharks are the team deserving to be next, reassurance provided by the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues in consecutive years that the law of averages has not been repealed. Sticking with it still pays off.
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