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Stanley Cup Final

Blues' surge to Cup Final worthy of praise, NBC Sports analysts say

'Deserve every bit of accolades' for going from worst record Jan. 3 to championship series against Bruins

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The St. Louis Blues deserve credit for exhibiting remarkable restraint during a time when they were tempted to clean house, NBC Sports analysts said Thursday.

That's a big reason they're in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins, with Game 1 at Boston on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Even before Jan. 3, when the Blues were 15-18-4 and last in the NHL, their front office was inundated with trade offers for veterans like defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and forward Vladimir Tarasenko.

 

[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Blues series coverage]

 

St. Louis already had fired coach Mike Yeo and promoted associate Craig Berube on Nov. 19. That wasn't working, but instead of waving the white flag, the Blues had other ideas.

"One thing that hasn't been said is the understanding of general manager Doug Armstrong not pulling the plug," NBC Sports analyst Eddie Olczyk said. "He could have easily started moving pieces. Forget the rumors. Facts: There were conversations up and down and throughout the National Hockey League of guys available in St. Louis.

"Give Doug credit. He decided to make a coaching change in November. It was up and down for a period of time, and they hit rock bottom in early January and could have easily sold the farm and started over."

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Blues heading to Stanley Cup Final

Instead, the Blues went 30-10-5 the rest of the way to finish third in the Central Division. Their subsequent 12-7 run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs earned them a rematch of the 1970 Cup Final, when Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr's iconic goal 40 seconds into overtime of Game 4 completed the sweep in the best-of-7 series.

Storylines are plentiful 49 years later in a series when Olczyk will join play-by-play announcer Mike "Doc" Emrick in the booth with analyst Pierre McGuire "Inside the Glass" for NBC Sports for the 13th consecutive Cup Final. The Blues' mission to complete the journey from dead last to Stanley Cup champions is among them.

"It's been a [heck] of a ride, and they deserve every bit of accolades that have come their way to this point," Olczyk said.

There's more to the resurgence, like Alexander Steen selflessly moving from top line to fourth line and finding chemistry with Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev.

The Blues grew closer on the road with Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Robby Fabbri, Robert Bortuzzo and Joel Edmundson bonding over an NFL playoff game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears at a members-only club in Philadelphia called Jacks NYB, where they adopted Laura Branigan's 1982 hit "Gloria" as their anthem. The next night, St. Louis shut out the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0 at Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 7, with Jordan Binnington making 25 saves in his first NHL start, a signature moment that launched the Blues to new heights.

Binnington took the No. 1 goalie job from Jake Allen, who was 14-13-4 with a 3.07 goals-against average and .898 save percentage at the time. All Binnington did was go 24-5-1 with an NHL-best 1.89 GAA, a .927 save percentage and five shutouts to become a finalist for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.

"The Binnington thing is a huge factor in terms of what stabilized St. Louis," McGuire said.

Berube, 8-9-1 in his first 18 games after replacing Yeo, also needed time to adjust. The Blues were on their way after a 5-2 home win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on Jan. 3.

"It's tough when you come in a middle of a season," NBC Sports analyst Mike Milbury said. "You don't have a training camp. You don't get a chance to really put a major imprint on it right way. So they stumbled along and then all of a sudden … you have to be good when you're a GM, and sometimes you have to be lucky. Both Berube, who had Binnington in the minors, and Doug Armstrong said to me, 'We never saw this coming. We had no idea he was going to be this good.'"

Berube and the Blues have an idea of how good the Bruins have been throughout the season. They've won seven in a row by a combined 28-9, and goalie Tuukka Rask has a 1.29 GAA, a .961 save percentage and two shutouts in that span.

But in addition to the Blues, time is an opponent to Rask and the Bruins, who will start the Cup Final after a 10-day layoff.

"He has never played better," Milbury said. "My only concern about that position is that Rask has been known to get absolutely torrid and he stays torrid for a long time. Ten days off is a long layoff. Will he go from torrid to tepid, which he has been before and why fans in Boston have a love-hate affair with him, or will he stay torrid? It will be fascinating to watch."

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