ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Blues’ most famous fan noticed something strange and wonderful as he made the half-mile trek west along Clark Avenue, the road that links Busch Stadium and Enterprise Center, the respective homes of this city’s most successful sports club and the one still searching for its first championship after 52 years.
“It’s funny that this is happening when Cubs-Cardinals are happening, too,” a jacked-up Jon Hamm mused ahead of Game 3 in the bowels of the hockey rink.
“There were a lot more people walking this way than were walking that way, and I think that’s probably the first time in the history of the city that that’s happened.”
The hype train charging toward Saturday night, the first Stanley Cup Final hosted by St. Louis since 1970 — when Hamm points out he was “negative-1” years old — felt like this unstoppable force all day long.
Local hero Patrick Maroon admitted St. Louis had been feeling down lately, that the people needed this. The streets, Clark and otherwise, were awash in Blues sweaters, bubbling with Blues chatter, and at least one reporter was awakened from his pre-game nap by the strains of “Gloria” blasting out of rolled-down car windows several floors below.
Hamm was in the house, and he paid to fly his best friend all the way from Australia to join him. The Office star Jenna Fischer was here, too.
A wonderful, blood-pumping, pre-game montage featuring Blues captains past — Brett Hull, Bernie Federko, Bob Plager, Chris Pronger — putting words to the moment, the wait, the anticipation, blasted from the barn’s slick new Jumbotron.
St. Louis was a hockey town gone electric.
Then, unfortunately, the game started.
“They were loud. They do a good job here,” said Charlie Coyle, one of seven Bruins scorers on the night(mare). “They were waiting for it. They definitely brought it, and it got us excited and ready to play.”
After riding a six-minute adrenalin wave, during which the home club limited the enemy to zero shots, St. Louis was coldly reminded of one of life’s three harshest inevitabilities.
Death, taxes and the Boston Bruins’ power play: They’ll all get you.
“We’ve got to keep this thing 5-on-5,” said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, delivering the understatement of the series.
By shellacking the Blues 7-2, Boston dished St. Louis its most lopsided loss of 2019, silenced the frenzy early and often, and sent yet another reminder that taking penalties against this juggernaut is a recipe for elimination.
The Blues, who pride themselves on leaving no check unfinished, have given the playoffs’ best PP unit 14 chances already.
In three games, Boston has outscored St. Louis 6-1 with the man-advantage, including a perfect 4-for-4 performance Saturday.
“We’ve been flirting with danger here the whole series, and it burnt us tonight. But in saying that, we’ve got to do a better job of killing them tonight and we didn’t. That’s why they won the hockey game,” coach Craig Berube said.
Lack of discipline has become “a major problem,” according to Ryan O’Reilly, who refused to point the finger at pulled goalie Jordan Binnington despite a troubling five goals allowed on 19 shots, prompting backup Jake Allen’s first game action in 60 days.
“We just didn’t play our usual selves the way we defended, and that’s hard on any goalie. There’s not much you can do when you give them that many PPs and that many opportunities. It’s not him; it’s the guys in front of him. We have to do a better job,” said O’Reilly.
He pointed to Berube’s failed offside challenge of Sean Kuraly’s goal with 10 seconds left in the first period as momentum killer.
“It’s tough. You have to challenge that. It was close. You have to give it a shot,” O’Reilly said. “Unfortunately, it just puts us on the kill. They come out, clean ice, good power play we gave another opportunity to, and they scored a big goal. Dug us a big hole.”
It was a party killer.
With nothing left to root for on the ice, the loudest ovation of the night belonged to NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, who chugged a Coors Light wearing a Blues sweater when he was splashed on the Jumbotron during a stoppage in play.
A guzzle-your-sorrows kind of night.
O’Reilly thought about the fans. “They deserved better,” he said.
By the time David Perron shoved down the barely tested Tuukka Rask and chirped his face to spark something, anything, the whole thing felt sad.
’Twas no night for sentiment. The faster and more poised team won, and handily.
“They have probably a few more bigger guys, bigger bodies to where they’re finishing checks, where we check with our feet,” Bruins defenceman Torey Krug explained.
“We’re a team that skates really well so we force you into bad areas. We might not always put you through the glass, but we skate so well that you have no options with the puck and we kind of funnel you into an area where you’re going to make a turnover.”
A clash of styles and of even-strength versus special teams, this seesaw Cup Final has changed momentum again.
The Blues players — as well as their most recognizable fan — are confident they can twist it back the other way. They’ve been doing it all year.
“I think a lot of that is Binnington’s ice water, Robocop whatever he is,” Hamm said.
“It’s how you come back from that adversity that, really, I think defines you as a team, and I think the coach and this team get that. They understand that it’s not about, ‘Oh, man, they got it in for us.’ All right, well, kill the penalty off and go score. And if you lose, come back and win the next game. And they’ve shown a remarkable ability to do that.”