ST. LOUIS -- Jay Bouwmeester knew his time was running out on having the chance to play for the Stanley Cup.
In his 16th NHL season, the 35-year-old St. Louis Blues defenseman has reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time, after they defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-1 in Game 6 to win the best-of-7 Western Conference Final on Tuesday.
"If you didn't think you'd get here, you would just stop playing," Bouwmeester said. "... It goes through your mind. When we lost to these guys three years ago, that was the farthest that we've been. In the moment, you kind of think, 'Oh, man, you're never going to get back here,' but here we are. It's one of those things you don't look too far ahead, you don't worry about those things too much, and when the opportunity comes, just enjoy it. That's what I've enjoyed throughout my career. You're not going to play forever. You've got to enjoy these things."
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The Blues lost the 2016 conference final to the Sharks in six games, and Bouwmeester played 35 games last season after recovering from hip surgery. He had another hip surgery this offseason.
Bouwmeester made his NHL debut on Oct. 10, 2002 for the Florida Panthers. He has played 1,184 regular-season games for the Panthers, Calgary Flames and Blues, and 68 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
"I've said it, guys like [Alexander Steen], guys like Bouw, those guys are the guys that you're fighting these games for," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "You want to give them the best opportunity. I know Bouw is a man of very few words, but we got a couple smiles out of him."
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Bouwmeester was the No. 3 pick in the 2002 NHL Draft by Florida and never participated in the NHL playoffs until his 10th season, after he was traded to the Blues for a first-round draft pick, defenseman Mark Cundari and goalie Reto Berra on April 1, 2013.
Bouwmeester is in his seventh season with the Blues and has been to the postseason six times, but never this far. St. Louis will play the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Cup Final on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
"It's all experience," Bouwmeester said. "You go through those series, and we lost a bunch of those series and we lost them in different ways. You do learn from that, you learn from the ones you win. In my time here, the vast majority of us have a lot more experience than we did at that point, and that was seven years ago. You just play the games. It's not rocket science at this point. Playoffs are fun."
Video: Bouwmeester on Blues' perseverance to reach WCF
Bouwmeester played 737 consecutive games in a streak that ended Nov. 22, 2014 because of a lower-body injury. He has played well in a pair with Colton Parayko -- plus-5 with five assists in 19 playoff games -- and signed a one-year, $3.25 million contract for next season on April 8.
"These opportunities don't come very often, period," Parayko said. "... I'm so excited for Bouw. I just get goose bumps thinking about it. [Sixteen] years in the League, and you just don't stumble upon it. ... It's tough to come back from surgeries, and you try to get into the lineup from the go, and he wants to play, he wants to be a contributing part of our team. It just goes to show how cool and how important it is for him to be here for us. He's absolutely flying; he looks like 19-year-old Jay Bo right now and it's so cool to watch. It's awesome."
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