The St. Louis Blues completed a most improbable journey and wiped out decades of misery by beating the Boston Bruins on Wednesday to capture their first Stanley Cup and set off a celebration that was 52 years in the making.
The Blues defeated host Bruins 4-1 to clinch the best-of-seven series 4-3 and end the longest wait in National Hockey League history for a team to win their first championship.
The victory capped a remarkable turnaround for the Blues considering they were sitting dead last in early January.
“What an unbelievable year,” said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo. “I don’t even know what to say. Where we were to where we are now… I tell you what, I’ve never been more proud to wear this jersey with this group of guys. It’s unbelievable.”
The championship was a long-awaited one for the Blues franchise, which reached the Stanley Cup Final in each of their first three years of existence from 1968-70 but were swept each time, including by the Bruins in 1970.
The 1970 loss tortured the Blues franchise for decades as it produced one of the most iconic photos in hockey history – that of Bobby Orr flying through the air with his arms raised in victory after scoring the Cup-clinching goal in overtime.
Since that defeat, the Blues have made the playoffs in all but nine seasons and despite having had some solid teams during that stretch had, until this year, never been able to return to the Stanley Cup Final.
But they made the most of their latest chance and in the winner-take-all Game Seven got all the scoring they would need in a late three-minute span of the first period while rookie goalie Jordan Binnington was sensational in the win.
Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly, who set a franchise record with the most points in one playoff year with 23, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs.
“I stopped trying to worry about the outcome and just give it everything I had,” said O’Reilly, who scored his team’s opening goal in the last four games of the Stanley Cup Final.
“I was getting bounces. It was amazing, my linemates played great, I thought we created every night. It was just amazing.”
The Bruins, who had never before hosted a Game Seven of a Stanley Cup Final, made a solid start and created all sorts of pressure but it was the Blues who jumped out to an early 2-0 lead despite being outshot 12-4 in the opening frame.
O’Reilly opened the scoring with about three minutes left in the period when he cleverly re-directed a shot from the point that went right through Boston goalie Tuukka Rask’s legs.
Pietrangelo added another with eight seconds left in the period when he skated in and used a nifty backhand deke to beat Rask and silence the stunned home crowd.
St. Louis nearly added a third midway through the second period but Zdeno Chara managed to swat the puck away from the goal line after a shot from Brayden Schenn went off the crossbar and Rask’s shoulder before dropping in the crease.
Schenn did find the net in the third period when he fired a puck off the post and past Rask with under nine minutes to play before Zach Sanford put the game out of reach with his first of the playoffs with under five minutes to play.
Boston broke Binnington’s shutout bid when Matt Grzelcyk found the net with just over two minutes to play but it was too little, too late as the Blues goalie went on to set a rookie record with his 16th playoff win.
“It’s an empty feeling,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “It’s a long year. Someone had to win and someone had to lose and we came out on the wrong side of it.
“It’s not the way you picture it, it’s as simple as that.”
(The story corrects day in the first paragraph to Wednesday from Sunday)
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)