ST. LOUIS — The last time this place was so packed for a game that counted, that game was 1,200 miles away. The Blues hoisted the Stanley Cup in Boston, on Market Street just north of the Enterprise Center, at the Arch, at bars across St. Louis. It visited schools and graveyards, the kids who will never quite realize how long the wait felt and the men who were gone too soon to see it end.

And finally, Wednesday night, the Blues skated around the perimeter of their home ice with the trophy they waited 52 years to claim.

But first they skittered by the Cup, skates on concrete and carpet, as it sat by the home tunnel to the ice and the players’ names were called, one after another, descriptions of their postseason accomplishments from 2018–19 drowned out by applause. The Cup was polished for its big night, which felt like it came too quickly for a team that had never had quite so short a summer, in a city where the sticky heat still ticked past 90 degrees on the second day of October. The Blues played their victory song, Laura Branigan’s “Gloria,” one last time after they raised their banner to the rafters, and then the celebration was over, and it was time to play for the Cup again.

The applause was deafening for Jordan Binnington, the no-longer-a-rookie goaltender whose promotion to the Blues’ starting job in January sparked their worst-to-first turnaround—but it was nearly as loud for Justin Faulk, the only player on the bench Wednesday who wasn’t a part of the championship team. (The Blues lost just two contributors from a year ago, Pat Maroon and Joel Edmundson; the former signed with Tampa Bay and the latter was the major piece in the Faulk trade.) Screams for the past, and for a future where the Blues are no longer cursed, no longer the team that can’t quite make it to June.

“That was pretty special,” Binnington said. “I think good job all around. I think the boys were really ready for puck drop and we had a good start.”

This time a season ago, the expectations were just as high for a St. Louis team that had reloaded in the offseason with the likes of eventual Conn Smythe and Selke Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly, as well as center Tyler Bozak and forward David Perron. It started the year cool and got colder before the midwinter turnaround—and just like a year ago, these reigning champion Blues started 2019–20 with a loss, though this one came in overtime after the team went out to a 2–0 lead in the first period. The Capitals, thanks to a first-period goal by Alex Ovechkin, a second-period power play goal by Dmitry Orlov and Jakub Vrana’s overtime clincher, spoiled the Blues’ party in a big way. “We’re going to get the best from every team,” Pietrangelo said. “We’ve got to expect the best effort every night.”

The captain admitted that he felt it was tough to “flip the switch” from the pregame festivities to the game, and these Blues are no strangers to the home energy sapping them. Eight wins of their 11-game streak came on the road in 2019, and they had a chance to clinch the Cup at home in Game 6—but instead dominated three nights later on enemy ice.

In August, Vladimir Tarasenko told Sports Illustrated that things in St. Louis changed for him this offseason. In the middle of baseball season, he couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone dressed in Blues gear. And the questions he fields now are different. It’s no longer “when will you win us a Cup?” Fans say thank you—and then some ask for another, which Blues brass did its best this offseason to continue building toward. But if any team is proof that it’s impossible to predict what might happen from October to June, it’s this one.