Boston: They shed their gear as they hopped over the bench boards, sticks and gloves helicoptered in the air as their yells filled the TD Garden silence.
With that, the St Louis Blues shed more than half-a-century of can’t-win stigma. No longer will their legacy be reduced to black-and-white newsprint history, the players formerly known as the background tableau in the flying Bobby Orr photo from 1970.
The Blues delivered the city’s first Stanley Cup with a 4-1 win on Wednesday over the Boston Bruins in a supremely executed Game 7 that ended the longest wait for a Cup in NHL history at 52 years.
“We did it,” Patrick Maroon said. “Being from St Louis and signing in St Louis, and winning the Stanley Cup and bringing it home and being with my family and friends, I can’t wait for these next few days. This is truly something I’ll never forget.”
Maroon used an expletive to describe how he felt about the doubters. Belief was a scarce commodity on January 2. The Blues were last in the league on that date. But they bonded with a throwback physical style under coach Craig Berube and led by rookie goalie Jordan Binnington and Ryan O’Reilly, who was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as outstanding player of the playoffs.
“You build those relationships by going through tough times,” Alex Pietrangelo said. “A lot of us have played a lot of games here and been close. [It was a] tough start this year. It brings you closer together. It’s a tight group, trust me. That’s why we play the way we do.”
Pietrangelo, the captain, first handed the Cup to Jay Bouwmeester, the 35-year-old defenceman who got his hands on the coveted Cup after 1,210 regular-season and playoff games.
“I’ve been waiting a long time,” Bouwmeester said. “I’m pretty honoured that he gave it to me.”
Bouwmeester and teammates skated to Binnington when the horn sounded. Binnington became the first rookie goalie to win all 16 of his team’s playoff games, and the 16th was a 32-save gem.
He lost the shutout when Matt Grzelcyk scored with 2 minutes 10 seconds remaining, but Binnington carried the Blues with 12 saves in the opening period and a big leg pad stop on Joakim Nordstrom in the third period.
“I think Binner really set the tone early,” Tyler Bozak said. “They came out really hard. They got a lot of great scoring chances, and he shut the door.”
O’Reilly, who said he suffered a cracked rib in the second round and played through it, became the first player with goals in four consecutive Final games since Wayne Gretzky in 1985, and he set the Blues single-postseason record with his 22nd point when he tipped Bouwmeester’s shot for the game’s first goal.
“You dream of this for so long,” O’Reilly said. “As a kid, that feeling comes back to you of just what it means to win this thing. I still can’t believe this. I can’t believe I’m here right now and a Stanley Cup champion with this group of guys.”
Pietrangelo stunned the arena with 7.9 seconds remaining in the first period. Jaden Schwartz chipped the puck past Brad Marchand, who inexplicably left the ice for a line change, and Schwartz set up Pietrangelo for a backhander in the slot for a 2-0 lead at first intermission. Those two goals were on four shots for the Blues in the first 20 minutes.
From there, St Louis played a simple, effective game in front of Binnington in crowding neutral ice and getting pucks out of its zone. Brayden Schenn one-timed Vladimir Tarasenko’s pass with fewer than nine minutes to go, and Massachusetts product Zach Sanford slammed in a feed that sent Bruins fans to the streets.
The first Final Game 7 home game in Bruins history was a dud. Boston had home ice and Conn Smythe favourite Tuukka Rask on its side. Street barricades were set up on Causeway Street and the building reached deafening levels when the Bruins came out for warm-ups.
But St Louis overcame a turnover-prone start and displayed the road game that defined its postseason. The Blues matched the record for most wins in a postseason with 10.
“It’s a heartbreaker,” Marchand said. “It’s tough to describe. They just took our dream, our lifetime dream from us and everything we’ve worked for our entire lives. [We were] 60 minutes away from that. You can’t describe it.”
After Bruins fans departed, the lower bowl of TD Garden filled with Blues fans who’ve endured losing for decades. Former Kings forward Jordan Nolan said it had a similar feel to when the Kings ended their drought in 2012.
“No one, probably, believed in these guys,” Nolan said. “But they believe in themselves.”
Perhaps no player felt the weight lifted more than an emotional Maroon, a former Ducks winger who carried his son, Anthony, to the ice for the celebration.
Said Maroon: “Me and my son will take this to our grave and we’ll have memories for life.”