CHICAGO — The day before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in June, Yana Tarasenko and her two-day-old son, Artem, were resting in their room at Missouri Baptist Hospital in a suburb of St. Louis when they received word that the Cup was visiting their floor.
According to Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko, the visit was a surprise; the Cup was traveling around St. Louis visiting hospitals that day, but it wasn’t supposed to appear on the same floor as his wife and new son. But there it was, making the rounds, available for the newborns at Missouri Baptist to curl up inside for photographs. Yana wasn’t sure what to do when the Cup reached her room, so she called her husband, whose team was up 3–2 in the series, and explained the situation. What should she do?
Take the picture, Tarasenko told his wife. “We were last in the league, and now we're one win away,” he said in September at the NHL Player Media Tour event in Chicago, recalling his decision to spurn superstition. “If we win, we were going to win. If we lose, we were going to lose. It's not because you're touching the Cup."
So Yana and baby Artem did just that. The newborn posed inside—eyes closed, wrapped in a hospital blanket, showing off a full head of dark hair. And then the Tarasenkos said nothing about the snapshot, sharing it with no one. The next day, June 9, the Blues lost at home in a blowout to Boston, 5–1. The series was tied, and it returned to the East Coast for the decisive Game 7. Unlike the rest of the Blues’ wives, Yana remained in St. Louis.
The Tarasenkos weren’t the only family contending with the potential birth of a newborn during the later stages of the NHL postseason. Bruins defenseman Torey Krug and his wife, Melanie, were also expecting a child, their first, due around the time the finals were slated to end. As the Bruins advanced through the playoffs and toward their daughter’s due date, Krug and his wife came up with a contingency: If Melanie went into labor, Krug would play and then rush to the hospital, even if he were a plane ride away. The couple knew that labor for a firstborn is rarely quick, and they devised a communication line by which Krug would get updates if the baby were to come on a game day: They’d rely on a member of the team’s equipment staff, who could have a phone with him, to relay the message.
Tarasenko had a slightly less complicated plan; Artem was Yana’s third child, and the couple scheduled her induction for a day Tarasenko would be in town and between games. Appointment booked, they thought they’d avoided all potential conflicts—until the Cup’s unexpected arrival, that is. When Tarasenko told his wife to go ahead and put the baby in the metal bowl, he had yet to set eyes on hockey’s ultimate trophy, which his team would go on to win four days after the secret photograph.
When Yana had learned she was pregnant the previous winter, it would have been almost unimaginable that the Blues would win their first championship in franchise history in 2019. The upside of Tarasenko’s team being in last place in January was that the expectant parents didn’t think they’d have many scheduling conflicts around the time of their baby’s birth—but the downside was that Tarasenko worried he might be traded away from the city where he and his family had made a home for the past seven years. “I [felt] like I make my family [be] in a bad spot, because she's pregnant, we have a school, we have kids, and if they trade me... it's a tough time,” he said. “I never usually say that something was bothering me, but that time was not good."
So by the time the Blues defeated San Jose to earn a trip to the finals, Tarasenko and his wife were more than happy to plan Artem’s birth around the highest-stakes games of the winger’s career. The alternatives they’d considered in February were fresh in their minds; that Tarasenko had to leave town when his son was just two days old was a minor inconvenience. On the opposing bench, Krug felt a sense of relief when the series returned to Boston for Game 7; the defenseman knew he wouldn’t have to change his travel plans or risk missing his daughter’s birth. His wife had been given permission to travel—albeit under strict supervision—if the Bruins had a chance to clinch on the road, which they never did, and in the end, Melanie Krug gave birth four days after Boston lost Game 7 to Saylor Harper.
“To go from an extreme low to about the highest you can possibly be at, that was a unique situation,” Krug said. “You go from one of the worst days of your life—although you're very lucky for getting the opportunity and thankful for being in the situation—to the high.”
After the Blues victory, Tarasenko broke the news of the Cup photo to his teammates. “I don't really believe in that curse, but he would have felt terrible [if we'd lost],” center Ryan O’Reilly said. “It was good we won.”
The day after Game 7, Yana posted the photo of Artem in the Cup on her personal Instagram, without a caption. There was no reason to believe it had been taken five days earlier, and as the Blues partied across St. Louis, Tarasenko, who didn’t want to spend too much time away from his family, requested that the Cup take a break from barhopping and visit his home. The Blues granted his wish, and finally, the player responsible for 17 postseason points in 2019 became the third member of his family to spend time with the prize.