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Stanley Cup Final

Blues enjoy improbable ride to first Stanley Cup championship

Rally from last place, end decades of frustration with win against Bruins

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

BOSTON -- The St. Louis Blues couldn't wait anymore.

No team had waited longer to win the Stanley Cup for the first time, 51 seasons, more than half a century. No team had played more games than this one had this season, 108. 

So as the final seconds ticked down at TD Garden on Wednesday, the Blues started celebrating, players jumping off the bench, gloves and sticks flying. 

They had defeated the Boston Bruins 4-1 in Game 7 of the Cup Final, climbing all the way from last in the NHL on Jan. 3. After passing the dream from generation to generation, it was finally time to pass the Cup. 

 

[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]

 

Forward Pat Maroon grew up in the St. Louis suburbs the son of Blues season ticket holders, playing hockey in the basement with his brothers and buddies, punching holes in the walls, imagining something like this. He signed with the Blues as a free agent July 9, taking less money than he could have gotten elsewhere to play for his hometown team and be with his son, Anthony, 10.

Now here they were together with the Cup amid the celebration.

"Don't touch it!" Pat's fiancee, Francesca Vangel, told Anthony. "You'll never win it!"

"Kiss it!" Pat told Anthony.

Pat lowered the Cup to Anthony's lips. Forget superstition.

"You've got to kiss it!" Anthony said.

Priceless.

"These are memories I'll never forget," Pat said. "This will be something that me and him can … talk about for the rest of our lives."

Video: STL@BOS, Gm7: Blues presented with Stanley Cup

The day before the Stanley Cup Playoffs began, Pat lost his grandpa Ernest Ferrara, one of his biggest fans. He drove to the hospital on his way to the airport to join his teammates. He hugged him, kissed him, told him he loved him and told him he would win the Stanley Cup for him.

"It is a pinch-me thing," said Patti Maroon, Ernest's daughter and Pat's mother, wearing a replica of Pat's jersey on the ice. "You dream of it. You dream of going to the NHL, you dream about winning the Stanley Cup, and he's done it.

"This is it. Don't get better than this. This moment, I will never forget. That we all could be here is pretty special."

* * * * * 

The 2018-19 St. Louis Blues will have their names etched in silver and written into hockey lore.

On Jan. 3, they were last in the NHL. Goalie Jordan Binnington had played three NHL games and started zero. "Gloria" was a 1982 hit by the late Laura Branigan you might hear on an oldies station.

Little more than five months later, they won the Stanley Cup. Binnington was the hero who led them to the playoffs and made 32 saves when they were outplayed in Game 7. "Gloria" was their victory anthem, played at a sold-out Enterprise Center and for thousands more fans who braved the rain at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

"There's storybook parts to this season," general manager Doug Armstrong said.

The moral of the story?

"Believe in yourself," said Binnington, who started this season in the American Hockey League and ended it with 16 Stanley Cup Playoff wins, the most ever by a rookie goalie. "That's all I can say, right?"

Video: STL@BOS, Gm7: Binnington dazzles in Game 7 victory

The Blues replaced coach Mike Yeo with Craig Berube on Nov. 19. Armstrong said they had a chance to make a trade Dec. 19, before the NHL rosters froze for the Christmas break. He held off but told the players they needed results. This was a team that was expected to contend, not one that should have been in last place.

On Jan. 6, a group of players watched an NFL playoff game at a private club in Philadelphia, and a club member kept requesting the same song, shouting, "Play 'Gloria'!" The next night, Binnington made his first start and 25 saves in a 3-0 shutout of the Philadelphia Flyers.

The rest is history. No other team since 1967 has gone from last place after at least 30 games and made the Final, let alone won the Cup.

"It's hard to describe," Berube said. "I felt like our team was coming around in December. We weren't getting enough wins, though. When Binnington went in, it really gave us confidence. He was making saves, doing a real good job in there, and I think our team really fed off that. And that's how we got on a roll."

The Blues finished the regular season on a 29-9-5 run, including an 11-game winning streak from Jan. 23 to Feb. 19, and "Gloria" became their song.

"We believe in each other," forward Vladimir Tarasenko said. "Our coaches make us believe in ourselves and the team, and it give us results."

The Blues defeated the Winnipeg Jets in six games in the Western Conference First Round; the Dallas Stars in seven in the second, with Maroon scoring the winner in double overtime of Game 7; the San Jose Sharks in six in the conference final; and the Bruins in seven in the Cup Final.

Four times, they were in a 2-2 series. They went 8-2 in Games 5-7 and 10-3 on the road, tying the record for road wins. They played 26 games in the playoffs and 108 in the regular season and playoffs combined, tying the record in each category.

Video: Relive each Blues goal from the 2019 postseason

The longer series went, the more they wore down the opposition with their physical style.

"I'm so proud of our players because of how hard they play," Berube said. "They put the team first. It's a big thing with us in our organization is team first, and that's not an easy thing to do all the time, and our guys do it, and that's important."

Center Ryan O'Reilly won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs. He had five goals in the last four games and tied Bruins forward Brad Marchand for the playoff scoring lead with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists). But a case could be made for a few others.

"We're built like a team," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the captain. "We use everybody. You don't get to this point without having depth, and our depth worked for us. That's what makes an unbelievable team."

* * * * *

This was a long time coming for the alumni, the fans and the city of St. Louis. The Blues set NHL records for appearances (42), series (72) and games (391) in the playoffs before winning the Cup for the first time.

The players handed the Cup to Bob Plager, an original member of the Blues who played in the Cup Final in 1968, 1969 and 1970 and never won a game, let alone a championship. When his moment came, he couldn't raise the Cup alone because of bad shoulders, so they helped him.

Plager was there with alumni like Brett Hull, Chris Pronger and Keith Tkachuk, and he thought of late alumni like Bob Gassoff, Noel Picard and, of course, his brothers Barclay and Bill.

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Blues win first Stanley Cup title

"I know what's going on up there," Plager said. "You think we're partying down here? There's a big party going on up there, and if there's any beer to be around, Noel has already found it."

Defenseman Colton Parayko shared the Cup with Laila Anderson, the 11-year-old fan with a life-threatening immune disease whom the Blues flew to Boston. She kissed the Cup on the ice and wept.

As the Blues celebrated, no music played at TD Garden. But long after the Bruins fans had left, a group of Blues fans chanted, "Gloria!" and "Let's go Blues!"

Wait till the Blues return to St. Louis. Play "Gloria." Play it on repeat.

"It means the world to me," Maroon said. "To bring it back home to St. Louis, it can't be better, being from St. Louis and being with those fans when I was young. Even when I played in the National Hockey League for other teams, I still watched those Blues and how they suffered and how those fans suffered.

"Not anymore. We did it, baby."

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