Mike McKenna has been a professional goalie for the past 14 seasons and has played for seven NHL teams and 13 minor-league teams. Most recently he played in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, playing one NHL game with them this season. He also played 10 games with the Ottawa Senators in 2018-19.
He knows about the most important position in the playoffs and a lot about the men who play it and those trying to score goals against them. So NHL.com asked him to share his insights during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In his last column from the Stanley Cup Final, McKenna breaks down a bit of the performance from each goalie, Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues (32 saves) and Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins (16 saves) in the 4-1 Cup-clinching victory by the Blues in Game 7 at TD Garden on Wednesday. He also talks about just how deeply the win resonated in St. Louis and the communities surrounding it, and among his circle of friends who have supported the Blues for decades.
Although I moved away 20 years ago to chase my hockey dreams, St. Louis has always been home.
I know what the Blues mean to the people of this city, and I know firsthand the pain and anguish they have endured as the team continuously fell short of winning the Stanley Cup.
Not any longer.
The Blues defeated the Boston Bruins 4-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on Wednesday to earn the first title since they entered the NHL in 1967.
As I sit here in my suburban St. Louis living room after the final whistle, fireworks are going off like it's the Fourth of July. Car horns are honking. People are yelling "Let's go Blues!" and "Play Gloria!"
Video: Blues defeat Bruins in seven to claim first Cup title
I don't think anyone around here is going to work on Thursday. If they are, not much is going to get done.
I've seen the St. Louis Cardinals win World Series championships and the St. Louis Rams win a Super Bowl, but I've never seen anything like this. It's bonkers out there.
You probably wouldn't have guessed the Blues would be the eventual winner after the first period when the Bruins had a 12-4 lead in shots. Quite frankly, the Blues weren't at their best. But goalie Jordan Binnington saved the day, making several highlight-reel saves.
There are times as a goalie where you know that if you can just get your team through the initial push by the opposition, you'll give your team a chance to win. That's exactly what Binnington did, and the Blues responded with two goals late in the first period and never looked back.
For Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, it was another hard-luck ending to a magnificent playoff. To put it bluntly, he got hung out to dry in Game 7. The only goal he could be faulted on was the third one, in the third period, where he was down on his knees prematurely. Rask may not have had much work, but there's no way the loss in this game -- or this series -- is on his shoulders.
Binnington and Rask each dug deep and found a way to propel his team onward.
Video: Jordan Binnington shines in Blues' Game 7 victory
In the end, only one can be victorious. For Binnington, it's the greatest five-month stretch of hockey he's ever played, and it sets him up for a career in the NHL after spending the first half of the season in the American Hockey League. He did not start his first game with the Blues until Jan. 7; now he's a finalist for the Calder Trophy and a Stanley Cup champion, achievements that were unimaginable a few months ago
Aside from the action on the ice Wednesday, the Blues victory has me thinking about so many of my friends who have bled Blue for so long.
Before the game, I asked several of them what it would mean if the Blues won. The answers were enlightening.
"It's a combination of seeing my childhood dream come to life along with the end of 50 years of a franchise struggling to build a winner," said Gene Corbett, 58, a lifelong fan from Wildwood, Missouri, about 25 miles west of the city.
"My daughter is 5 years old and a bigger fan than myself ... to give her a story that she will cherish her whole life... 'Where were you when the Blues won their first Stanley Cup?' 'I was with my daddy and he cried tears of joy!'" said Mike Reyland, a 38-year-old from Ballwin, Missouri, 20 miles west of the city.
"It brings back all of the memories of my entire life watching them and wanting this," said Jill Rugen, a teacher from St. Louis. "All of the happy and sad tears along the journey. (A win would) bring us all together as one."
Video: The best moments from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs
And this most St. Louis of responses:
"I might break my diet and eat a slice of gooey butter cake or Imo's Pizza," said Curtis Brennecke, a 36-year-old broadcast video specialist.
Vince Kremer, a friend of mine who has spent decades making a living in IndyCar racing, had perhaps the most surprising answer. Kremer spent the first 30 years of his life in St. Louis before relocating to Indianapolis to chase his career dreams.
"I would be totally amazed and overjoyed for the team, players, management and lifelong fans, as well as myself," he said. "I've been fortunate enough to have worked on teams that have won (racing) championships and Indianapolis 500s. I'm more nervous being this close to a St. Louis Stanley Cup than I was during any race or season.
"You ask what it would mean? I'm not sure I can answer that question. This team, this franchise, these fans and most definitely all the people involved in this organization deserve to find out what reaching the pinnacle of their sport feels like. For me I will more than likely break down in tears."
My city. My home. My friends. Their thoughts best encapsulated by my buddy Stan Elrod, a 62-year-old insurance specialist from St. Louis.
"It would mean everything."
It clearly has meant everything, as all of St. Louis starts the summer-long celebrations of a long-awaited Stanley Cup title.