Play “Gloria” like it’s 1982 and party like it’s 1970, because the Blues are heading to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in almost half a century. Ryan O’Reilly's three assists (career playoff-high) and Binnington’s 25-save effort helped St. Louis defeat San Jose 5–1 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.
It only took 92 seconds: Blues winger Sammy Blais received a cross-ice pass from O’Reilly and ripped a wrist shot off David Perron’s stick, simultaneously opening a one-goal lead and blowing the roof off the Enterprise Center. St. Louis scored seven seconds into its first power play when Vladimir Tarasenko wristed a feed from Colton Parayko over Martin Jones’s right shoulder with 3:44 left in the first.
Sharks center Dylan Gambrell, filling in for an injured Tomas Hertl, cherry-picked a stretch pass from Joonas Donskoi, skated into the offensive zone untouched and scored his first NHL goal to cut the deficit in half 6:40 into the second period. Logan Couture missed an open net minutes later and whiffed on a puck dribbling through the crease. The Sharks had life. And then defenseman Justin Braun took a hooking penalty. The Blues went back on the power play, and Brayden Schenn finished a rebound off an Alex Pietrangelo slap shot, extending St. Louis’s lead to 3–1.
After the Blues survived a Kevin Labanc shot off the crossbar, goaltender Jordan Binnington stonewalled Evander Kane from point-blank range to maintain a two-goal lead with 12:58 remaining in the third period. Binnington never looked nervous. The 25-year-old rookie gloved a Couture wrister and held the Sharks off long enough for Tyler Bozak to score off the rush, blowing open a 4–1 lead, sparking “We Want the Cup!” chants and effectively ending San Jose’s postseason run. Ivan Barbashev’s empty-net goal cemented the win, and the zeros on the clock made it official as St. Louis claimed its spot in the final against the Bruins.
The Blues are now the only expansion-era team in NHL history to reach the Stanley Cup Final after being in last place any time after New Year’s Day. That’s something that doesn’t just happen in the NHL. None of the six previous teams to make the playoffs after finding themselves in last had even made it past the first round. St. Louis’s run resulted in a couple award nominations for coach Craig Berube and general manager Doug Armstrong, but this past November was a different story.
No team underperformed like the Blues to start the season. Mike Yeo was fired after a 7-9-3 start. Vladimir Tarasenko, over six months removed from offseason surgery on his left shoulder, went scoreless in December while trade rumors mounted as his shooting percentage dipped to 8.0%. Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo both went to the IR. Armstrong’s offseason heist of O’Reilly from the Sabres might have been the only thing to keep the team afloat: The 28-year-old center played some of the best hockey of his career, augmenting his do-it-all two-way play with nearly a point-per-game production in 2018.
More than a month into Berube’s tenure, the Blues were no better off and held a league-worst 15-18-4 record on Jan. 2. Berube, five days later, replaced Jake Allen with 25-year-old goaltender Binnington. The rookie launched his Calder campaign and entered the Vezina conversation with a league-best 1.88 goals against average. St. Louis rattled off a 30-10-5 record in 2019 and finished with the second-most points in that span. Tarasenko returned to his dynamic form, the Blues got healthy and trudged their way past the Jets, Stars and Sharks in the West.
Now, St. Louis has the chance to rewrite a franchise history that is filled with postseason letdowns. Hall of Famers Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger and Bernie Federko all donned the blue and gold but couldn’t bring the Gateway City a Stanley Cup. Likewise for All Stars Pavol Demitra, Pierre Turgeon, Keith Tkachuk and those 100-point teams at the turn of the millennium. The Blues were the first expansion franchise to reach the final in the team’s first season in 1968 and, while they made it back again in ‘69 and ‘70, they also hold the distinction as the only team to be swept in three consecutive Cup final appearances.
Now 49 years after Bobby Orr’s arms-raised flying overtime goal to win the 1970 Stanley Cup Final, the Blues are four wins away from forging a new, more pleasant memory in the annals of St. Louis sports lore. That starts on May 27 at 8 p.m., in Boston.