Is it okay now for hockey fans in Chicago to root, sort of, for the St. Louis Blues?
Wait. Please don't leave. This is just a one-timer, and for two weeks max. Then you can all return to regularly scheduled hostility.
It's just that, with the Blues involved in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins, maybe supporters of the Blackhawks can briefly shelve past grudges and support a vintage rival? It's about pride in the Western Conference, the Central Division, time zone bias. Besides, if the Bruins prevail, it will mean three current champions in one city, along with the Red Sox and Patriots. Is this necessary? That hasn't happened since the mid-1930s, when Detroit's Tigers, Lions and Red Wings ruled simultaneously.
Also, during this past regular season, St. Louis won just one of five games against the Blackhawks. Bragging rights. That matters too, no?
Whatever, the Blues are a great story. Last in the entire National Hockey League at the New Year, they gathered in a Philadelphia establishment on Jan. 6 to watch the Eagles play the Bears in the NFC playoffs. Customers cheered a 16-15 victory and began singing "Gloria." Taken by the noise, the Blues blanked the Flyers the next night and haven't stopped chanting "Gloria" since - or winning.
In order, the Blues upset the Winnipeg Jets in the First Round, then the Dallas Stars, then the San Jose Sharks. Since former Blackhawks luminary Doug Wilson took over as general manager in 2003, the Sharks have played 174 playoff games, most in the NHL. They were favored in the Conference Final, but the industrious Blues had other plans. They won three straight to vanquish the depleted Sharks.
The Blues' remarkable second half surge deeply involves installation of a new coach, Craig Berube, and a new goalkeeper, Jordan Binnington. Both once toiled for the - local angle - Chicago Wolves, who since have become an affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights. This run has captivated St. Louis, a great baseball market that in recent years has evolved into a hockey incubator. In 2016, five hometown prospects were chosen in the first round of the NHL Draft. Icons like Keith Tkachuk who played in St. Louis stayed in St. Louis. They love it.
Still there? This is not to imply that Blackhawks loyalists should forget history. Cubs vs. Cardinals has been an item forever, but Chicago vs. St. Louis in hockey is right there. The Blackhawks and Blues have been sneering at each other over five decades. Recall the 1991 "St. Patrick's Night Massacre" at the Stadium featuring 278 penalty minutes. Chicago's Dave Manson battled St. Louis' Scott Stevens in the main event at center ice, capping a crowded undercard. So it always has been, and the Blues' sudden swagger surely shall enrich next season's competition.
Way back, the Blackhawks staged a few neutral site "home" games in St. Louis, then had a farm club there. Phil Esposito toiled for the Braves, as did Dennis Hull and Pat Stapleton. When the NHL grew from six teams to 12 in 1967, Baltimore was a strong possibility, but St. Louis prevailed, paying the $2 million entry fee.
Scotty Bowman, the Blackhawks' senior advisor to hockey operations, began his Hall of Fame career there. But he required a legend for the launch: Glenn Hall. The Blackhawks left him unprotected in the expansion draft because Mr. Goalie planned to retire, again. The Blues, however, made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
"Glenn put us on the map," recalled Bowman. "Not only on the ice, where he was outstanding, but in the locker room. He was terrific, and in time we started getting bigger and bigger crowds."
By decree, the NHL stipulated that the champion of the all-expansion West Division would advance to the Stanley Cup Final against winner of the East, comprised of all Original Six teams. It was a mismatch. For three seasons, Bowman's tight-checking Blues won their section, only to be overwhelmed in the Final. They were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in 1968 and 1969, then the Bruins in 1970. But Hall was so spectacular that he was voted the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable individual in the 1968 postseason.
In 1970, the NHL again expanded, adding the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks. In a bit of gerrymandering, the Canucks were placed in the East, while the Blackhawks transferred to the West. That's when the fun versus the Blues really took hold. They've been angry at each other since, through regular season tiffs and taffy pulls, plus 12 playoff series. Expect more of the same come October.
The Blues have not partaken of a Final game since May 10, 1970, when Boston's Bobby Orr scored the overtime clincher while on a horizontal flight path. The photograph is famous, but probably not prominent in Hall's den.
"I've asked Bobby since," recalled Mr. Goalie. "'Is that the only goal you ever scored?' That's the only picture I ever see. I also told him that by the time he landed, I already had a shower and a cold one."