There’s an O’Reilly family hug happening near the Zamboni doors at a mostly emptied out TD Garden. Ryan, his mom and dad, his wife and his sisters, in a circle jumping around with a lot of happy screaming. “We did it!” O’Reilly yells, flashing a smile short one front tooth. There’s a Stanley Cup Champions hat on his head. His Conn Smythe Trophy is nowhere to be found.
Patrick Maroon’s face is wet with tears. He greets his fiancée, Francesca Vangel, and his 10-year-old son, Anthony, at those same Zamboni doors. Vangel and Anthony are sporting St. Louis Blues jean jackets with his name and No. 7 on the back. Maroon wraps them both in a hug — he pretty much covers them, he’s so tall and they’re so small. He lifts Anthony in the air and kisses him, then Vangel jumps into his arms while Anthony smacks him on the butt with a Blues flag. Maroon sees his mom, Patti, and hugs her next while they both cry. Patti uses a yellow Bruins’ rally towel to wipe tears off her face. Maroon lets his flow.
A sign that once read “We Want the Cup!” has been updated to “We Got the Cup!” with “Want” X’d out underneath. It’s plastered to the glass and the smattering of St. Louis fans here are chanting “Let’s Go Blues!” while the Cup gets passed around on the ice. Chris Butler, who played 13 games for this team all season, is sharing a bottle of whiskey. He grins and slips it in his pants after a few teammates knock some back.
Very few Bruins fans have stuck around to watch this celebration. Boston defender Charlie McAvoy captures what it’s like to be on the losing side in two words: “It’s devastation,” he says, the truth of that written all over his blank face. Bruins forward Brad Marchand says: “I’ll never get over this.” His linemate, David Pastrnak, walks out of the rink holding his girlfriend’s hand, eyes red and focused on the black carpet in front of him.
Back on the ice, Blues forward Robbi Fabbri is pressing his phone hard against his ear, trying to hear whoever’s on the other end. There are tears in his eyes.
Brayden Schenn is rounding up his family for a picture. “Where’s Luke?” he asks, trying to track down his older brother, the Canucks defender who says it’s brutal to watch big games from the stands, far less nerve-wracking to play.
Defenceman Colton Parayko, looking about eight-feet tall in his skates, has said “so much fun” three times in the last minute. Moments earlier, he kneeled right down to help Laila Anderson lift the Cup so he and the Blues’ 11-year-old super fan could kiss the trophy together. “I don’t know,” Parayko says, trying to put words to this moment, a grin plastered on his face. “I have nothing really to describe it for you guys. I’m sorry.”
Parayko’s D-partner, Jay Bouwmeester, has more than 1,200 NHL games to his name, and he can’t do much better. “To finally do it?” the 35-year-old Edmonton native says, shaking his head. “I don’t know. I’m dumbfounded.”
Rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington doesn’t hesitate when asked to capture the moment. “We’re the champs,” he says with a smile. “It’s over. That’s it.”
Don’t pretend you expected the 2018–19 NHL season to end quite like this. Nobody did. The runaway Presidents’ Trophy winners from Tampa Bay got swept in Round 1 and a St. Louis Blues team that was dead last in the standings in January completed a comeback for the ages and won the Stanley Cup. Come again? Maybe the only thing you could’ve predicted is that the city of Boston would contend for a third major championship this sporting season, because, as homegrown Bruin Charlie Coyle explains, “It’s the Boston way.” Winning, he means. Well, not this time, Charlie.
St. Louis has seen its fair share of winning, too. Its 11 World Series titles are second only to the New York Yankees. And while a Bruins win would’ve built on hockey history and provided a seventh title for an Original Six team, in St. Louis, lifting the Cup accomplishes far more. Firsts tend to do that. It’s a baseball town, but now, with the parade down Market St. coloured Blues blue instead of the usual Cardinals red, hockey goes boom and a loyal fan base is finally rewarded. St. Louis’s win ends the longest championship drought in the NHL, leaving the Toronto Maple Leafs alone at the top of that list. Not just that, but in the process, the Blues proved a team can win against all odds: That it’s possible to lift the Stanley Cup with a goalie who was fourth on the depth chart in October. That a GM can sit tight and believe in his group when they’re floundering in the basement a few months into the season, and hope for better than just keeping his job come June.
From the draft to the end of the Stanley Cup Final, the 2018–19 NHL season was historic. Built for your ears, this special episode relives it all.
While these two clubs were a study in contrasts, the sweetest similarity between the Bruins and Blues is that both featured players who arrived just in time for big title runs in their hometowns. For Patrick Maroon in St. Louis and for Coyle in Boston, every game was poetic, dream-come-true stuff. Is there anything more storybook than bringing the Cup back home? That’s why players get a day with it, after all: To share it with the people who helped them finally hoist it.
But getting to the top was bruising. It was heated. It was controversial as all hell. The only other time these two teams met on this stage, back in 1970, the series ended with Bobby Orr flying through the air and a four-game sweep, all neat and tidy. Things weren’t so simple this time.
Patti Maroon can’t stand to be inside while she waits for overtime to start, so she’s out here in the garage, clutching rosary beads in one hand and a St. Anthony prayer card in the other. It’s humid and she’s overheating, but Patrick Maroon’s mother is not taking off her No. 7 Blues jersey. “I can’t handle this,” she says, shaking her head and pacing the cement floor in her gold sandals.
Patti has plenty of company in the garage. She’s joined by her brother, Rob Ferrara, who’s known to all as Uncle Bobby. Her daughter, Jen, is out here, the eldest of four Maroon kids, a hair stylist who cuts baby brother Patrick’s hair for free. A handful of close family friends are standing at the edge of the garage, most of them taking deep breaths. Uncle Bobby’s house is now nearly empty, because many of the 15 people who’ve been watching Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final here are now either in the garage or down the street on a walk to de-stress.
“What do you guys think I should do?” Patti asks. “I had the prayer card in my hand for the first and second, and it was in my bra in the third. Should I put it in my pocket?” The card is good luck, since the saint on it shares a name with her grandson, Anthony — Patrick’s boy. He’s at the game in Boston along with Maroon’s fiancée, Francesca Vangel, and Maroon’s dad, Philip.
“Mom, do what you feel,” Jen says. She’s sitting in a lawn chair, trying not to think about what’s ahead. To the room, she adds: “This is going to be so hard to watch.”
Through 60 minutes, the Blues and Bruins are locked in a 2–2 tie. Play has been as tight as the score and as brutally physical as you’d expect coming out of a 4–2 Boston win in Game 1 that was punctuated by Torey Krug’s flying, helmetless hit on 19-year-old Blues rookie, Robert Thomas.
Uncle Bobby is stress-eating plain Lays chips. A blue light shines over the front porch of his home in Oakville, the St. Louis suburb where most of the Maroons still live and where Patrick grew up. Even without the light, Bobby’s house would be easy to find. There’s a banner on the front lawn, and the grass is spray-painted with blue and gold letters that read: “#7 LET’S GO BLUES.”
“I’m so confused,” Patti says. She’s not devoutly religious, just overly superstitious, and now she wants to know where to put the rosary beads, which Vangel brought her back from Italy. Patti figures those can play a role in a win tonight. Jen laughs: “Can somebody tell her where to put the rosary beads?”
Everybody rushes inside just before overtime starts. Patti heads to the kitchen to watch on the smaller TV, since that’s where she was watching when the Blues scored both their goals. The rest of the family settles into their same seats in the nearby living room in front of the big screen. Maroon’s bobblehead and his Lego likeness are on a mantle over the TV. There are pictures of him all over the house — a whole bunch are framed over the nearby fireplace, one of a few areas Uncle Bobby calls “my shrine.” There are even pictures of Maroon’s bearded face glued to the end of a few long, wooden sticks, in case anybody wants to put his face in front of their own.
“I don’t even know where to go anymore,” Patti says, walking around the main floor. She hasn’t sat for more than three minutes total during the game. “Go back to the kitchen!” Jen says to her before turning to explain: “We usually score when she hides.” Patti was relegated to the garage for two periods during a game in the Western Conference final, and the Blues scored twice and won. She heard it all on the radio.
Patti heads back to the kitchen, with the rosary beads in one hand and the prayer card in the other. The puck drops on overtime. In the living room, Jen and her four-year-old daughter, Gianna, chant: “We want the Cup!” Downstairs in the basement, Jen’s 15-year-old son, Hayven, is watching with a couple friends, their mini-stick game now on hold. Uncle Bobby clutches a card with his father’s picture on it. Ernest Ferrara, Maroon’s grandpa and Uncle Bobby and Patti’s dad, passed away on April 9 at age 94. Jen kisses the card for luck.
“Pat’s on!” Uncle Bobby yells to alert his parents that their grandson has hit the ice. Ernest and Eleanor’s ashes sit in two urns in the dining room, on a side table. Eleanor loved blackberry brandy and chirping guys on opposing teams and Ernest was a WWII veteran who loved cigars. They were among Maroon’s biggest fans, and he was among theirs. They used to live with Uncle Bobby, and the three of them never missed a game. Uncle Bobby would always point out when Maroon was on the ice, in case his parents hadn’t noticed. He hasn’t given up the habit.
“Pat, get there!” Patti yells from the kitchen. “Hit him!” Moments later, she runs into the living room: “Are they calling a penalty on Boston?”
The referees are, on Bruins defender Brandon Carlo. She races back into the kitchen.
As the Blues work the puck around the Bruins zone, with the extra attacker on the ice and the delayed penalty awaiting, everybody’s on their feet except Gianna, who’s lying under the coffee table covered in a blanket, watching a YouTube video about slime — it’s nearly two hours past her bedtime.
Carl Gunnarsson winds up and fires and, as the puck hits the twine, the Maroons and Ferraras and friends jump and hug and yell and scream and pump fists. Gianna springs up to join in the celebration. “Uncle Pat!” she yells.
Patti tears around the corner from the kitchen and launches herself into a huge group hug with tears in her eyes. The prayer card and rosary beads are still in her hands. “Who scored?” Patti asks, while she and Jen jump in each other’s arms. “I don’t even know!” Jen answers.
It takes two replays for the Maroon family to learn it was Gunnarsson, who’d also hit the post late in the third, a moment that made them all celebrate prematurely. Standing in front of the TV now, still sporadically hugging and jumping, Maroon’s mom, sister and uncle all watch him celebrate on the ice. “He’s probably crying,” Jen says.
“That was our first Stanley Cup Final win in history,” Uncle Bobby says, doling out high-fives.
Gianna tells Alexa to play Laura Branigan’s 1982 hit “Gloria,” the Blues’ win song; it’s also Patti’s ringtone. Then Jen puts in a request: “Alexa, play ‘All I Do Is Win,’” she says. She and Patti pick up the sticks with Maroon’s face on them and they parade around the living room, singing along with the DJ Khaled track, throwing their hands up.
Patti kisses Maroon’s picture. “He really is cute, my son,” she says, grinning. Then, a deep exhale. “How am I going to go home and sleep after this?”
Al MacInnis looks like he slept just fine. The man with a cannon for a slapshot is sitting in the stands at Enterprise Center, leaning forward in his seat while he watches the Blues practice ahead of their first home game of this 2019 Stanley Cup Final. It’s been 17,924 days since the Show Me State hosted a hockey game this big, and their team has done away with the Bruins’ home-ice advantage to bring the series back knotted 1–1. Game 3 is a day away.
Colton Parayko wires a shot on net. “He’s just been a monster for us,” MacInnis says. “He’s built like a Greek god.”
MacInnis has been a mentor during Parayko’s four seasons with the Blues, and the Alberta-born god is touched when the description is passed along to him: “Wow, did he really say that? I like that, especially coming from him.”
MacInnis knows what it’s like to win a franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup, having helped deliver Calgary’s in 1989, and he says “there’s really no better street for a parade” than St. Louis’s Market. But if you’d asked him in December, not in a gazillion years would the Blues’ senior advisor to the GM have visualized that parade being as distinct a possibility as it is today, just three wins away.
There’s a wooden case mounted on the wall as you enter the Blues dressing room. It holds a puck to designate each of the team’s wins this season. As recently as January, there were just 15 pucks inside, “and it was looking kind of empty,” Parayko admits.
“All my years in hockey,” MacInnis says, “I’ve never seen a comeback like this.”
He’s not the only one, because the NHL has never had a comeback like this, a team that ranked last in the league on Jan. 2 playing for the big one in June, with that case now holding 58 pucks, a sight Parayko quite prefers. And the timing of the Blues’ success is awfully good, too, because while the team has always had a loyal fan base, grassroots programs in this city are about to get a major boost with the addition of a crop of brand-new ice sheets that will mean the Blues no longer have to practice inside a mall and local teams will have options other than 5 a.m. for ice time. “We’re going to have six, maybe seven or eight new ice sheets here, and that’s huge,” MacInnis says. “This will really help our growth.”
That growth is particularly important to MacInnis. He’s vice president of the AAA Blues, a program founded in 1986 and built largely by the NHL club’s alumni. The program has seen MacInnis and others like Keith Tkachuk, Basil McRae, Rob Ramage and Jeff Brown all coach over the years, and their impact and influence is both big and measurable: Back in 2016, five St. Louis kids were taken in the first round of the NHL Draft, all products of the AAA Blues. “For us,” says Brown, an Ottawa native and former Blues defenceman who retired in 1998 and moved to St. Louis soon after, “it’s giving back to the game that gave you everything.”
It’s a pervasive thought around these parts. A lot of players who played in St. Louis never left, or came back to retire. Wayne Gretzky owns a house here. Chris Pronger lives here. So do Ramage and Tkachuk. It’s part of the reason Ryan O’Reilly was excited to join the Blues this off-season. “Talking to guys who’ve played here, the first thing they said is, ‘You’re gonna love it here,’ and then hearing rumours that it’s probably one of the biggest teams in terms of alumni that stick around after they’re done playing,” O’Reilly says. “You can tell: Something’s amazing about this place. I love it.”
MacInnis has been in St. Louis for 25 years, and he’s seen the effect of both the pro and AAA clubs on local grassroots hockey. As he looks out on the ice at these Blues, tracking Jay Bouwmeester as the veteran defenceman smoothly skates about, MacInnis, who was known as “Chopper” back in his day for his not-so-smooth skating, expects the popularity of the game in his adopted hometown will only continue to grow thanks to what’s happening right in front of him.
“You can see the way the city has embraced this team,” he says. “And just imagine the level that would hit if these fans got that championship they’ve been waiting for all these years.
“Hey, maybe we’d even take a little chip out of the baseball town.”
A day ago, Boston winger Brad Marchand stood in his stall in the visitors’ dressing room, rocking back and forth from the balls of his feet to his heels, while the Rolling Stones’ “Fool to Cry” played in the background and he answered questions about his “Perfection Line.” Today, ahead of Game 3 in St. Louis, it’s a decidedly different mood in the tiny dressing room the Bruins occupy: Though the Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak trio is still a hot topic, it’s now Eminem, 50 Cent, T.I. and Chris Webby blaring from the hallway speaker — Krug’s playlist.
Defenceman Charlie McAvoy walks through the room on his way out of the rink, lip synching the line “they don’t know what’s up” along with a tune. Even coming off that overtime Game 2 loss — their first of the series and one that took home-ice with it — this room has a winning feel, and it’s not just the music. Framed pictures of Bruins holding the Cup adorn the walls — Bobby Orr and Zdeno Chara and Marchand and Tuukka Rask. The team brings these photos on the road to make it feel a little more like home.
“I’ve taken a good look,” Pastrnak says, of the photos. The 23-year-old has 16 points so far in these playoffs, though just a single assist through the first two games of the Final. His dirty blonde hair is wet and slicked back, held in place by a black hairband. It gets in his eyes and makes his face itchy, he explains, so it’s either a hairband or a hat to keep those locks at bay. Pastrnak smiles a lot while he talks, revealing two front teeth that are each missing a sizeable chunk thanks to a high stick he ate back in 2016. You could fit a dime through the gap.
Chara walks by, his celebration photo to his left, and his head just about hits the picture of Orr that hangs above a doorway. The shot of No. 4 with the Cup is accompanied by the words: “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
As the start of Game 3 approaches, you can hear the roar of the crowd through the walls of the visitors’ room. A photo of the Stanley Cup flashed on the rink’s big screen and the fans let loose the sound of a city that’s waited 49 years to see their team get another crack at that trophy. It’s the kind of energy that has been known to swing an outcome, but ask Marchand, and this is just another city that’s excited ahead of a big game. The Bruins aren’t fazed.
Jordan Binnington is announced as Game 3’s starter with a real emphasis on the first syllable in his name — “BINN-ing-ton!” — and the noise in the Enterprise Center hits yet another level, while lights flash blue and white and yellow. Binnington leaves his helmet on, the one with “JB” written on the chin and “BLUES” across the top. He stares straight ahead, unblinking, while the crowd goes bananas.
The “Let’s Go Blues” chants are deafening and only gaining steam for the more than six minutes it takes Boston to register a shot. But they stop short — “Let’s Go Bl…” — when the Bruins convert on their first power play, Patrice Bergeron redirecting a Torey Krug point shot. By the time David Pastrnak casually tucks home a walk-in-the-park backhand to make it 4–0 just seconds into the second period, the air has been sucked out of the building. And midway through that frame, after another Krug point shot deflects off Jay Bouwmeester’s stick and Binnington’s glove before finding the net, the only sounds in the arena are the organ playing and the Bruins hollering.
In this near-quiet, Binnington skates to his left, almost all the way to the boards, before heading back to his net. He takes that same trip to reset after every goal. But this time he looks toward his bench as he skates back to his crease, and then he changes direction and heads off the ice, pulled from the game after allowing five goals on 19 shots. He taps his replacement, Jake Allen, on the pads before he steps off the ice and walks down the tunnel. He won’t reappear on St. Louis’s bench until the third period, wearing a ball cap. Game 3 will end as a 7–2 drubbing in Boston’s favour.
It’s the first time Binnington has ever been pulled from an NHL game, but not his first time losing his crease during a championship run. Back in 2011, at age 17, Binnington lost his starting duties for most of his OHL championship run with the Owen Sound Attack after getting lit up in Game 4 of a first-round series against the London Knights.
“Was there worry?” Dale Degray, the Attack’s GM then and now, asks himself. “Yeah, there was at the start.” Not because the team didn’t believe Binnington could be great — he’d been one of few goalies to play in the league at the age of 16 a season earlier — but because they weren’t sure he was quite ready to be great just yet. “Jordan was so young, it made it difficult to think that he could carry the mail — and we had a good team,” Degray explains.
The Attack were down three games to two to Mississauga in the OHL final before Binnington was given another shot. He made 41 saves in a 3–2 Game 6 win. “He basically came in after spending a few weeks in the stands, gets his start and he stood on his head,” Attack goalie coach Greg Redquest says. In Game 7, Binnington stopped 25 to win in overtime on the road. The goaltender would go on to the Memorial Cup and earn first-team all-star honours. He was drafted by the Blues in the third round that summer.
As he waited for his chance to start at the NHL level through nearly six seasons in the AHL, that experience with the Attack proved valuable. “I learned that things can be taken from you quickly,” Binnington says. “And you’ve got to make the most of your opportunities.”
Today, on the heels of the loss, there is no doubt in the Blues dressing room that their goalie is going to bounce back and make the most of his next opportunity in Game 4. Colton Parayko hems and haws thinking back to the last time he saw Binnington truly rattled or excited — he can’t come up with an example. “He’s got a cool personality,” the defenceman says. “It’s the way he just goes out there, calm and collected all the time, no matter what.”
“If there’s one reason we’re here, it’s because of him,” adds David Perron. Ryan O’Reilly echoes that, and says in times like these, you leave the guy alone to gather himself.
“It is what it is, right?” Binnington says, barefoot and expressionless. “It’s a loss. I’m not happy with that. We’re going to regroup and prepare for the next game.”
His tongue slips over his front teeth as his eyes scan the cameras and journalists around him, eyebrows up waiting for the next question. There’s a pregnant pause. What comes next could seem like frustration, the reaction of a player who wants to go stew, but this is how the young goalie often ends his media interactions. “Good stuff?” Binnington asks, pausing one last beat. “Alright.” He’s out of here.
There’s a slow but steady drip of sweat falling from Ryan O’Reilly’s beard as he sits in the Blues dressing room ahead of Game 4 and answers question after question about the importance of this one. Yes, a Bruins win means this series is all but over. A Blues win knots things up and turns this Final into a best-of three. Yes, it’s a big game.
Above O’Reilly’s stall, “Toughness” is painted in big, blue letters. Patrick Maroon sits two stalls to the left, and it’s a good thing the homegrown guy on this team is so close. “O-Ry” was a newcomer to St. Louis this season and Maroon was a great source of answers to the centre’s questions about where to live and where to eat and where to hang out and where to get groceries — all the important stuff.
But if you ask O’Reilly, even back when he couldn’t find the local supermarket, this city just felt like home, felt comfortable. The knockout Italian food helped — an expert himself now, he recommends hitting up Pal Manno’s for pasta — but the real trick to his warming up to St. Louis in a hurry is what started happening in January. “Winning,” the 28-year-old from Clinton, Ont. says with a laugh. “That helps. And I think the way I’ve been embraced, the way this team has been embraced. It’s been outstanding.”
When the puck drops on this Monday night, O’Reilly attacks the Bruins like a man on a mission, determined to reward the city that welcomed him, intent on delivering that first-ever home-ice win on this biggest stage. It takes him just 43 seconds to pick up a rebound, rip around the Bruins net and jam home a wraparound that sparks the loudest roar he’s ever heard in St. Louis. O’Reilly pumps his fist, yells and smacks the Bluenote logo on his helmet before his teammates bury him in hugs.
Boston answers back midway through the first and takes the lead in the second when Brandon Carlo bangs home a juicy rebound to make it 2–1 for the visitors. But a little more than a minute later, Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo toe drags and shoots and Vladimir Tarasenko jumps on a rebound of his own to beat Tuukka Rask blocker side. For the third time in the series, things are all tied up at two heading into the third.
With the Bruins’ captain, Zdeno Chara, stuck on the bench after a shot traveled up his stick and caught him in the face, breaking his jaw, O’Reilly knocks home a Pietrangelo rebound, five-hole, and the announcer calls out the second goal of the game for “O-Rei-lly!” — his 18th point of the post-season. This time, the lead sticks.
The Blues bound to their dressing room with a 4–2 win, the series now a best of three. On their way in, they pass a wall that says, “Oh when the Blues go marching in.” They pass pictures of some of the legends who’ve played here, like Al MacInnis and Bernie Federko and Brett Hull. They pass the stick rack that holds the weirdest curve in the NHL — O’Reilly’s nearly dead-straight blade with the little hook on the end, like an index finger flexed at the top joint. And they pass the puck case that’ll soon have a new addition: No. 59, with a piece of white tape markered up to indicate that the winner was scored by the owner of that weirdly hooked stick.
Usually, you’ll see O’Reilly in here with a backwards Blues snap-back covering his curly hair. He’s a talker, willing to go on about the “easy livin’” in this city. He loves that there’s so little traffic, loves investigating different neighbourhoods — his favourite of which is Clayton. And he’d love to earn St. Louis its first Cup. The Blues are closer than ever now.
But by the time media is allowed in the room, O’Reilly is already gone, his skates tucked in his stall covered by blue guards, his equipment hanging neatly.
Maroon has stuck around, wearing flip flops, and his answer to the last time he saw O’Reilly play like he did in Game 4 is “every night.”
“He’s been our leader all year,” No. 7 says.
The Blues dressing room clears of reporters as news spreads that Pietrangelo, Tarasenko and O’Reilly will speak soon in the interview room, at the podium.
O’Reilly heads down the hall for the press conference dressed in blue New Balance sweatpants. There’s a solitary “0” on one leg, because the “9” that’s supposed to precede it wore off. The laces of his white New Balance sneakers are undone — carefree after a win, it seems. Catching up to Tarasenko, O’Reilly throws an arm around his teammate. The two goal-scorers with missing chicklets and matching team sweatshirts walk together to meet the cameras.
When Charlie Coyle heads down the players’ tunnel ahead of Game 5 here at TD Garden in a few hours’ time, he’ll pass by some artwork that’s been taped to the walls leading out to the ice. Most of it was made by schoolkids from the greater Boston area, and Coyle has given it a good look during breaks in the action while he and his teammates play pregame soccer to loosen up.
There’s a picture of Tuukka Rask with the caption “Best goalie in the NHL!” done by a boy who’s included a photo of himself, along with the note: “Future goalie in the NHL (I’m only 6).” There’s plenty of advice and inspiration, too, most of it written out in marker: “Do your job!” “Find your strength.” “Don’t poke the bear!” “Give the Blues the blues!”
But there’s one piece that’s resonates with Coyle more than any other here, and that’s a laminated picture of himself in a Bruins jersey on a black-and-yellow background that reads: “L.W. Pingree Primary School” and “WHERE GREATNESS BEGINS.”
“It’s sweet,” Coyle says, grinning. The Pingree grad just finished a workout after an optional morning skate. He’s sitting in a small room across the hall from the Bruins dressing room, leaned back in a black leather chair with one leg stretched out in front of him, a gleaming white sneaker at its end. “They had a spirit day at the school recently,” he explains. The Bruins’ mascot, Blades, showed up and all the kids wore their team gear. “Pretty cool that it was happening at my old school.”
There’s no doubt Boston is invested in its team, but no Bruin is feeling that support quite like the centreman who’s scored in three straight games, the guy who grew up 25 kilometres south of this arena, in Weymouth, Mass. The cul-de-sac where Coyle’s parents still live features a Bruins jersey on the front doors of just about all 12 houses. Around Weymouth, the stores and restaurants have signs that say “Go Bruins” and “Go Charlie.” Only as Coyle’s explaining this does a little hint of his Boston accent appear, and just on “Chah-lie.” “To get to the NHL and then for me to play here, close to all the people who helped me and shaped me and all that?” he says, brown eyebrows raised, shaking his head. “Ah, it’s just crazy. It’s awesome.”
Coyle loves the outpouring, even if it can be a little all-consuming at times: You should see his phone after games. “Even before games, leading up, all the good luck texts,” he says. No. 13 can’t possibly respond to every one, right? “Yeah, I do,” Coyle says, laughing. He feels bad if sometimes he has to wait overnight, but don’t worry, cousin or old buddy he hadn’t heard from in a decade: He’ll get back to you, eventually.
His dad, Chuck, whose own phone has been blowing up, gave him some sound advice recently: “You just gotta copy and paste [the] thumbs up emoji to everyone,” Coyle says, laughing again. (Chuck only recently learned how to use emojis.) “Oh, when I got traded here it was crazy,” he adds. “It took me literally a day — like, a full day — to get through all the messages.”
Coyle came to his childhood team just before the February deadline, from Minnesota, and of course this city felt like home immediately because, well, it is home. But even though he’d been to playoff games here as a kid, sitting and cheering in the crowd, it turns out that doesn’t much prepare you for being a literal Bruin. “I kind of knew what to expe—,” he starts to say of his first playoff game in this building before stopping short. “Well, not really, actually,” he admits. “I knew to expect how it was going to be in the stands, but not how it’s going to feel out there on the ice.” He tries to capture that in words. He can’t.
In a few hours, Coyle will play his 43rd game as a Bruin, but he swears it doesn’t feel real quite yet. It’ll hit him randomly, like earlier today, when he saw a logo on the street and it reminded him that he’s part of this team in his city. “It’ll just be like, ‘Geesh,’ and I’ll get little chills, you know?” he says. “Then other times it doesn’t really hit me and I’m just kind of going through it and it happens so fast — the playoffs and the highs and lows. It’s so… I… Yeah.”
Coyle pauses and smiles and shakes his head. “I’m still trying to process that I’m on the Bruins,” he says.
Yellow rally towels are flying onto the ice. Water bottles soar over the glass. Someone even throws a tin of chewing tobacco. The accompanying boos from the crowd are nearly as loud as these fans were when they welcomed their injured captain back onto the ice tonight, just before Game 5 started. Out comes the staff with shovels to remove the debris that’s still raining down from all sides of the building. The plea from the TD Garden announcer to “please refrain from throwing objects” is only met with more boos.
The scoreboard reads 2–0 for St. Louis in the third period. Seconds ago, David Perron scored just after Tyler Bozak forced a turnover when he upended Bruins fourth-liner Noel Acciari, who went flying, nearly completing half a backflip. There was no call on the play. Acciari stayed down, kneeling on the ice, and he was still on one knee while the Blues celebrated around him. The debris and boos came just after he slowly got up and skated back to the bench. And now the “Bull-shit!” chant is going. Cam Neely doesn’t aim for the ice with his water bottle, but he does whip a full one in disgust inside the team’s box. It’s not a happy 54th birthday for the Bruins president.
Jordan Binngington has been sensational in net for the Blues — he’ll end the night with 38 saves — but Jake DeBrusk finally gets the Bruins on the board with 6:38 to go. Tuukka Rask leaves his net and Charlie Coyle comes on as the extra attacker, but the Bruins can’t beat Binnington again to force overtime. Perron’s controversial goal stands as the winner.
After the final buzzer, most fans clear out in a hurry. Plenty of the ones who stick around hurl more bottles and towels onto the ice.
In the Bruins dressing room, very little of the discussion is about the incredible return of Zdeno Chara, who’s playing with a broken jaw just three days after sustaining it. Rask does point out the captain’s “got some big balls,” but the focus of conversation is that missed tripping call on Bozak. Brad Marchand walks by after a post-game shower, stone-faced, wearing a yellow towel around his waist. He made the same walk in the same getup earlier today, but back then he was grinning and joking with a member of the team’s staff. The tone has changed.
Coach Bruce Cassidy uses words like “egregious” and “black eye” to describe the officiating. “They missed the effing call,” he says.
You won’t find anyone in the Bruins dressing room who disagrees. “You get two officials each game that come in and they try to establish a different standard [from the previous game’s officiating crew],” Torey Krug says, dressed all in black with his hands on his hips. “Sometimes it’s tough, but we’ll have to figure out what that standard is next game and try to live on the edge [of it].”
If the Bruins don’t, that’s it. It’s win-or-go-home from here on out.
Chara walks by the media area in the rink’s underbelly wearing a dark suit. There’s a bottle of red liquid in his left hand, a bottle of green liquid in his right. There’s dry blood on his bottom lip. He makes eye contact with reporters and greets any hellos with a straight-faced nod.
Two days later, the captain speaks to media for the first time since that puck caught him in the face. After practice a day ahead of that do-or-die Game 6, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, he tells reporters “there’s no limitations” on his game despite his injury, though there does seem to be a limitation on just how much he can comfortably open his mouth. When Chara’s turn at the podium is over, his “thank you” is delivered through barely parted lips.
I have to walk,” Torey Krug says. “He’s the last one.”
Zdeno Chara just strode by on his way to the team bus, which means the Bruins are leaving the rink to head back to the hotel for naps ahead of what will be, for most of them, the biggest game of their lives. That’s certainly the case for Krug.
He remembers his first time suiting up for this team, back in 2012, one season after the Bruins last won it all. The game was against Pittsburgh. “One of my first shifts, I had a one-on-one with Sidney Crosby,” Krug says, grinning. “Talk about a surreal moment.” He couldn’t believe he was even on the ice with guys like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And though that wasn’t the matchup the Bruins were after, throwing their rookie defenceman out against one of the best players in the world, Krug didn’t fare badly: “I think he turned up the ice, so I did my job,” Krug says. “Maybe he was doing me a favour. I appreciate it.”
There are 14 players on this roster who’ve spent their entire NHL careers with the Bruins, but none of the others took a path quite like Krug’s. He went undrafted at basically every level, and when he played at Michigan State, the goal was to get his education paid for. Instead — or in addition — he torched NCAA hockey, registering nearly a point per game in his final season, and he was a highly sought-after free agent in 2012 when he chose to sign with the Bruins. “To be honest, I had a few options,” Krug says. “One of the reasons I chose this team was the attitude and the winning culture guys like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron have instilled in this locker room. Stepping into it was a pretty special feeling.”
Krug is five-foot-nine and says he could count on one hand the number of defenceman his size when he first broke into the league. “Now there’s probably one on half of the teams in the league — a smaller guy,” he says.
It’s the biggest guy, though, the one walking ahead of him right now, who has been one of his most valuable mentors. “People laugh when I say I can learn things from his game, because he’s a foot taller than me,” Krug says of Chara, grinning. “But I’ve learned that the simpler, the better. When I watch him, how simple he can be and how effective that is, it shows I can be simple and effective as well.”
So effective, in fact, that Krug leads the playoffs in points by a defenceman, with 17 in 22 games, including two goals. His name comes up in Conn Smythe discussions.
“It’s special for sure,” he says. “But it’ll taste a lot better if we can win a Stanley Cup.”
Chara just got on the bus. Krug has to go.
Oh, when the Blues… Go marching in… Oh, when the Blues go marching in…”
Fans in Enterprise Center are on their feet, singing along with the slightly remixed Louis Armstrong tune ahead of the biggest home game in franchise history. Spotlights dart and flash around the arena. More than 100,000 people are outside watching on a few big screens.
Warmups start. Patrick Maroon rips around the ice and then takes a moment and stares straight ahead, bopping his head to the music booming over the PA. His entire family is here, including Anthony, who’s sitting in his usual seat behind the Blues bench. Maroon and his teammates arrived here a couple hours ago with the help of a police escort. They had to navigate through a crowd that started forming early this afternoon — right around the time the “Let’s! Go! Blues!” chants started up outside their hotel. The team stays together the night before a game this big, even in their home city.
St. Louis has the early jump, but even with a power-play chance, they can’t get one by Tuukka Rask. When Ryan O’Reilly sends a puck over the glass in the Blues end and joins Brayden Schenn in the penalty box to give the Bruins a 5-on-3, it’s all but written in stone what comes next: David Pastrnak threads a cross-ice pass and Brad Marchand one-times it over Jordan Binnington’s glove. It’s 1–0 Boston halfway through the opening frame.
On a Blues power play in the second, Alex Pietrangelo throws his arms almost all the way up after a shot, thinking he’s tied it — but not so fast. The captain’s backhand hits the post, then hits Rask’s back before Charlie McAvoy swats the puck out of the air. It settles on the top of Rask’s pants and his gloved hand reaches behind his back, trying to keep it anywhere but the net. It stays out.
Only Ryan O’Reilly can get a puck past Rask in an eventual 4–1 Bruins win — and even that goal is so close it requires a video review. In the visitors’ dressing room in St. Louis, Patrice Bergeron nails it when asked about Rask: “I mean, it goes without saying.”
It really does. But McAvoy expands moments later: “He’s our best player,” the 21-year-old says. “He has been all playoffs and all regular season.”
Dressed in a tan suit with a black shirt and tie, the Best Bruin is ushered into the interview room, along with Marchand. They’re both asked what it is about this group that allowed them to force a Game 7, and Marchand gives an answer about leadership and playing for their lives, and then he looks over at his teammate, prompting Rask to follow up. “Yeah,” Rask adds with a nod.
There is just one more game to go, one more win to earn, and McAvoy is relieved as can be. He admits he was a bit of a nervous wreck most of the day. “Just the thought of it being over tonight was terrifying,” he says.
Down the hall, the Keeper of the Cup, Phil Pritchard, is pushing a big black case on wheels out of the building. The Stanley Cup is headed to Boston. For the first time in history, the Bruins will have a chance to win it at home in Game 7.
A Blues win, of course, would be a historic first on all counts. David Perron sums it up simply: “It’s going to be the best game of our lives.”
Later, the Blues winger walks out of the building with his family, holding his crying toddler.
Charlie Coyle is a bad sleeper at the best of times, but in the past couple weeks, and particularly the past couple days, he’s reached a new low. He can’t stop visualizing himself playing “the right way,” and picturing how this series will end if he and his teammates do. “I don’t know if it’s been going against me or if it helps me doze off, thinking good thoughts about the game,” he says. “I’ve just been rolling with it. So far, so good.” He wakes up a few times each night.
Ryan O’Reilly says “what’s possible to attain here” creeps into his mind all the time, and same goes for any teammate he’s talked to. That includes Ivan Barbashev, who sleeps as often and as much as possible to help the time pass. O’Reilly tries to distract himself by watching TV. He’s burned through the Chernobyl miniseries and watched a lot of Veep since this Final began, 16 days ago. Does Game 7 feel real to O’Reilly? “Yeah,” he says, before totally contradicting himself. “It’s still like this whole situation hasn’t hit me.” Okay, then.
The centreman, whose 99-year-old grandma has been e-mailing him regular words of encouragement, figures it will all actually sink in a few days from now. O’Reilly doesn’t know if he’ll be a happy Stanley Cup champion or a sad finalist who fell one win short. What he does know: “I’ll probably be a little emotional.”
Torey Krug addresses media from a podium after the morning skate. “It’s right there,” he says, from beneath the brim of a Bruins ballcap. “Let’s go grab this thing.”
Thousands of fans line the streets around TD Garden. A bigger-than-life-sized picture of Zdeno Chara’s face — mouth wide open in a yell, something he can’t do right now — is taped to the end of a long stick. An older man sports a yellow-and-black long-haired wig. Even if all you do is win championships, your city still gets amped for any chance to do it again. Grown-ups are walking around wearing giant, plush bear heads.
The main lights go down inside TD Garden, replaced in the packed stands by thousands of glowing bracelets that flash yellow and white in the darkness. The “Let’s Go Bru-ins!” chants are thunderous, and tonight the home side is again cheering on two hometown players: Charlie Coyle and defender Matt Grzelcyk, who is back after suffering a concussion in Game 2.
Boston’s in control early on, but they’re not rewarded. On a Bruins power play, Jordan Binnington stops Brad Marchand on a cross-crease splits save. Later, he stones David Krejci on a near breakaway, and then stops Marcus Johansson on a full one. Despite the St. Louis goalie’s acrobatics, though, the momentum stays with Boston. More than 16 minutes pass between the Blues’ first shot of this game and their second.
And then comes the swing. With 3:23 left in the first, Blues winger Sammy Blais forces a turnover and rifles one on net from a bad angle. The puck goes out to Jay Bouwmeester, who blasts a shot from the point. Ryan O’Reilly gets his stick on it for the tip, through Tuukka Rask’s legs. It’s 1–0, St. Louis.
A little more than three minutes later, Jaden Schwartz drops a pass for captain Alex Pietrangelo, who makes a silky move and backhands the puck over Rask’s glove. There are eight seconds left in the first period, and it’s 2-0 Blues. TD Garden is as quiet as it’s been all night.
Despite 11 more shots in the second period and plenty of pressure from the “Perfection Line,” it stays 2–0 Blues heading into the final frame. St. Louis is just 20 minutes away from history.
Brayden Schenn adds to the lead midway through the third, with a one-timer from the slot. And after Zach Sanford buries a pretty cross-crease pass from David Perron to make it 4–0, fans start streaming out of TD Garden with about four minutes to go. You can hear “Let’s Go Blues!” cheers loud and clear in Boston now.
Grzelcyk gets the Bruins on the board with a little more than two minutes left, but he doesn’t smile or celebrate — even if the fans who are still here roar with hope, even if the hometown kid has dreamed of scoring on this stage his whole life. Binnington takes his usual skate to his left and smacks his pads with his stick, but he’ll get over that goal in a hurry.
After the clock runs out on the 4–1 loss, David Pastrnak stays kneeling on the ice, staring at it. Rask, still leaned up against the bench, wipes his face and then puts his helmet back on for a bit before heading to the handshake line. Captain Zdeno Chara leads his team in that line. Patrice Bergeron is the last Bruin to leave the ice, with a gloved hand on Chara’s back. Later, Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy says he doesn’t know how long it’ll take to get over what happened tonight: “A long time.”
To teammates, McAvoy keeps it just as simple: “I love you.”
Nearly an hour after he tossed his gloves in the air in celebration, Binnington says that was a long third period. He doesn’t want to talk much about it, though. He wants to go hug Jake Allen and his other teammates and lift that Cup again, which was much heavier than he expected when he first hoisted it above his head.
“We did it,” he says. His message to all of St. Louis.
And then he skates off to join in a celebration 52 years in the making.
How the Blues pulled off one of the NHL's greatest turnarounds
On January 2, the St. Louis Blues had the worst record in the NHL and there were calls to blow the team up. Now they’ve got a shot at their first Stanley Cup Final in five decades. This is their story.