ST. LOUIS – Imagine you spent 52 years planning the ultimate surprise party.
The big day finally arrives. More than 100,000 guests show up, giddy and cheerful, not a one in a bad mood. It feels like it’s going to be the rager to end all ragers.
But for some reason, the birthday boy never bothers to show up, and there’s nothing to celebrate after all.
It is legal to drink in the streets of St. Louis.
You can crack one in moving cars, too, so as long as you’re not the driver. And, according to the eye test, even that rule is flexible come playoff time. Let ’em play.
So, the tailgating on a sunny, sticky, gleeful Sunday began at least four hours before the puck dropped on the first game the Blues ever had to win the Stanley Cup, to drown out the NHL’s longest championship 0-fer.
"It’ll make the Rams’ Super Bowl win look like a tea party," Bruce, my 4.87-star Uber driver, predicted. A lifelong St. Louisan, he couldn’t wait.
Into the cement sidewalk bricks paving the Hall of Fame Plaza outside the rink were all-caps messages such as "JUST ONE CUP BEFORE I DIE" and "MATT WE WOULD TRADE U 4 A CUP LOVE MOM & DAD."
Celebratory anthems like "Gloria" and "Hot In Herre" and, hand to God, "We Are the Champions" blared loud through rolled-down windows as thirsty fans sipped beer from plastic Stanley Cups, slammed their horns and choked the outdoor Market Street watch party past capacity. A sea of blue and yellow and yearning.
A bundle of dynamite wound tight and just trying to bum a light.
The City of St. Louis is READY!
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 10, 2019
"It was crazy," David Perron said after Game 6. "We stayed at the hotel there in the afternoon, and you could hear people honking and yelling, ‘Let’s! Go! Blues!’ You could see people walking up and down the street. It was a cool sighting, and cool when we get our police escort around the rink to go around the whole thing."
The 2019 Boston Bruins are hockey’s ultimate party poopers. On Easter Sunday, they spoiled the Maple Leafs’ best shot to escape Round 1 in Toronto. The feel-good narratives around the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes? The Bruins dumped those Cinderella stories in the paper shredder and burnt the scraps to ashes.
We probably should’ve seen this decisive 5-1 Bruins victory coming.
First, the St. Louis Dispatch accidentally published (and later deleted) a letter to the fans from Blues owner Tom Stillman that thanked them after "the elation of breaking through and bringing St. Louis its first-ever Stanley Cup…. We look forward to celebrating with you as we parade the Cup down Market Street."
Also published, screen-grabbed and making the social-media rounds was an Enterprise advertisement featuring a Blues “2019 Stanley Cup champions” logo.
"It gives you extra motivation, for sure," said Boston’s Jake DeBrusk, one of the many who saw the leak.
Second, when noted Blues fanatic Jon Hamm showed up, he had already shaved his bushy playoff beard down to a mere sexy stubble.
Jinxes aren’t real, right?
And then a rather, um, boisterous Brett Hull — who low-fived at least one current Blues player while they ran pre-game laps around Enterprise Center — grabbed the microphone and called Bernie Federko "the greatest of all-time." Hull played with Wayne Gretzky.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 10, 2019
Weird things led to the loss.
Ryan O’Reilly, arguably the Blues’ Conn Smythe front-runner, committed a puck-over-glass penalty early, just his second playoff minor in the past 32 games, and it gave the Bruins 58 seconds of 5-on-3 power-play time.
Brad Marchand needed only 21 of those to one-time a puck past Jordan Binnington, suck the crowd’s enthusiasm and alter the complexion of the game.
"That’s a dumb play by myself," O’Reilly said. "You know the whole city’s behind us, and to see that many people is amazing. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get it done for them here, but we’re gonna have to do it on the road."
Special teams are the common denominator in all three of Boston’s victories this series. By killing all four Blues power-plays, the B’s are now a remarkable 17-for-18 on the kill.
St. Louis’s 5-on-4 work has failed to adjust. Too slow. Too deliberate. Low on one-timers and fresh looks. (Tuukka Rask, of course, is also a factor.)
"Can it be better? Yeah, it has to be better. That could’ve won us the game tonight," coach Craig Berube said. "We had good looks. We had 12 shots on the power play tonight, but we definitely gotta bury a couple."
O’Reilly said just one power-play goal "would’ve given us the spark that we needed."
Yet the Blues were only down one heading into the third period.
The puck had been skipping and bobbling all evening, so it’s fitting that the balloon-popper and eventual game-winner was a knuckler off the stick of stay-at-home defenceman Brandon Carlo that bounced off the ice and squeaked under Binnington’s armpit
"Lucky bounce," Berube said.
"Hockey in June," Perron shrugged. "There were a lot of people early on in the rink. Even in warm-ups, you could feel like the ice was not going to be good tonight."
The home team has won just two of the Final’s six games
Binnington is lights-out after a loss.
The Blues are the playoffs best road squad, and they’ve been clawing out of a hole since New Year’s Day.
Maybe it was too tidy for this unlikely worst-to-first fairy tale to end here, now.
"Maybe that’s our story. Maybe we have to get it done on the road," O’Reilly said. "We have to leave it all out there. That’s our mindset. We’re a great team on the road. We know if we play our best game, we can take these guys. Go there and get it done."
Berube was still able to smile in his post-loss conference. After all he’s endured to get this far, perspective comes easy.
"Listen, if you told me four months ago we were gonna be in the finals, Game 7, I think I’d take it," Berube said.
Perron thought about the happy pre-game mob, the opportunity missed and the one awaiting them Wednesday.
"I’m already excited for the next game," he said. "It’s going to be the best game of our life. We’re going to put everything on the line, empty the tank.
"Our fans have been great, and we’re going to do everything we can to get another thing similar. Maybe bigger."