How the Blues hit reset, then beat the game

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    BOSTON — It’s Jan. 2, and the St. Louis Blues are the worst team in the NHL. They’re porous defensively and underwhelming offensively. Their meticulously crafted roster has failed the chemistry test. They fired their coach, Mike Yeo, 43 days earlier, but haven’t improved under interim coach Craig Berube. For lack of a more clinical term, they stink.

    Brayden Schenn thought about that dour moment in the season as he lifted the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night, after the Blues ended a 52-year drought with their Game 7 win in Boston. He thought about what the Brayden Schenn who was in last place on Jan. 2 would say if he received a message from Brayden Schenn, Stanley Cup champion, telling him to just hang in there for a few more months.


    “[He’d say] you’re a liar. We’re in last place,” Schenn said. “But you keep on fighting. You keep on believing.”

    Schenn glanced around the ice at his teammates as they hugged loved ones and took photos with the Stanley Cup on the Bruins’ home ice. “This doesn’t feel real,” he said. “It’s absolutely incredible. It feels like a video game we’re in.”

    Here’s the thing about video games: When they don’t go your way, there’s a remedy. You hit the reset button.

    Down to one life on the first level? Finish fourth in the first race? Give up three goals in the first 10 minutes of a game? Hit the reset button.

    Lingering in last place on Jan. 2? Hit the reset button.

    “We put everything on the line from Jan. 3 on, and we deserve this,” winger Patrick Maroon said after Game 7. “All these people, all these media, they doubted us all year long. And we shoved it right up their ass.”

    On Jan. 2, not many people outside the Blues organization would have pegged them to win the Stanley Cup. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
    From Jan. 3 through the end of the regular season, the Blues went 29-10-5. Berube unlocked something in this team through straightforward communication and a north-south forechecking game that eventually was like a wrecking ball swinging through the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    The Blues’ doldrums were a distant memory. Step by step, they walked away from them.

    “The coaching change happened. The other guy was a good guy. But then he’d come to practice, and I don’t think he had the players’ attention,” said Bob Plager, an original Blues player who now works in their community relations department. “Then they get the new coach, Berube. You gotta love him. He’s old-school, I think. He played over 1,000 games, but he had to work every year. He was the kind of player we were. You went out there and you worked and you learned the game and you understood. You made the mistakes. You corrected them.”

    And then you forget about them.


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    If there’s anything that defined the Blues in their successful quest for the Stanley Cup, it was their uncanny ability to move beyond adversity. Devastating losses were quickly followed by victories. For example, the consecutive losses in the series against Winnipeg and Dallas that were followed by consecutive victories to close out those matchups.

    Calamitous moments were overcome through obliviscence. Such as that undetected hand pass that led to a San Jose Sharks win in Game 3 of the Western Conference final, then led to three straight St. Louis wins to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

    “After the game, I just came in [the dressing room] and talked,” Berube recalled. “We talked about how you just gotta move on. The call, you can’t change it now. It is what it is.”

    The Blues experienced deflating moments such as the devastating losses in Game 3, the first Stanley Cup Final home game in franchise history since 1970, and Game 6, when they had a chance to win the Cup in front of those starved fans. They followed each with a win, including in Game 7.

    “Every guy on our team has a ton of character,” forward Zach Sanford said after Game 3. “We’re a really close group, and we all have each other’s backs. A tough loss like that, I think [on] a lot of teams, a lot of guys would have started throwing each other around the bus, blaming other people and doing this and that. With this group it’s all just boosting each other and having each other’s back.”

    Each time adversity hit, the Blues hit the reset button. “Things don’t really seem to faze us,” captain Alex Pietrangelo said.

    That’s especially true for their goalie, rookie Jordan Binnington, who was 14-2 this season with a 1.78 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage after losses. This was a rookie goalie who, when asked whether playing front of a hostile crowd in Winnipeg made him nervous, shot back with, “Do I look nervous?”

    He won all three games in Winnipeg. He won three more in Boston. He did this all season, from the moment he won the crease.

    “It’s just his calmness and his mannerisms more than anything,” Berube said. “I think he goes back in there and he feels really confident about himself.”

    Between Berube and Binnington, the Blues resurrected their season.

    “I think the guys realized with this coach and that goaltender, there are games going into the third period where they’re tied or a goal behind,” Plager said. “And they start to realize, hey, this goaltender is giving us a chance to win some games. So we started winning games. The players became believers.”

    And they believed they were playing for more than just one another.
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