A few years ago, the Colorado Avalanche ended the Blues’ meager playoff hopes in the last game of the regular season. Remember that game. Jake Allen was blamed for everything that went on outside of the construction of the Poplar Street Bridge 24/7, and Vladimir Tarasenko left the game early because of that pesky shoulder. Things took a turn for the worse in the third period as the finality of another hopeful spring march to Lord Stanley failed. Beers were being consumed. More beers were consumed thereafter. I took most of the sad fans home via Uber, listening to the stories of their Blues hockey addicted dads / moms / siblings / friends.
Today, the “Stan Kroenkes” have a chance to eliminate the Blues again, sending them home while other teams parade. It’s like being thrown out of the ring at the Royal Rumble. Wrestling fans will get this reference. It was the most obscene and entertaining site in sports, one of their most important events. Each wrestler stuffed themselves into the ring, throwing elbows and kicks at each other, with everyone inside trying to throw the other out of the ring, thus eliminating them.
Sometimes a big name would bite the dust early. Other times, it was the two biggest stars in the sport who remained last on the mat. Reminder: the fight is rigged, hockey is not. The Blues can be thrown out of the ring today, or they could find a way to extend it. I am comfortable with either outcome.
After all, I’m just a hockey fan masquerading as a writer here. When the smoke from COVID-19 started to clear and 2021 began, I made the choice to stop writing hockey full-time. What I found instead, after stepping away from that “analytical / I have to watch every game and find answers” trap, was a love for just watching hockey. I didn’t expect a win every night, just a group of human beings putting their bodies on the line to soothe their spirits, please the fans and try to achieve the impossible.
Few teams know the impossible better than the Blues, aptly named after a genre of music that sounds great but usually has a sad tone or ends its story. This team only lifted the Stanley Cup more than 50 years into its existence, a long march to salvation that felt like 150 years of waiting. And now, after all that thinking and anticipation, followed by a day on Market Street that should never be forgotten, Blues fans are clamoring for another Cup.
And I understand! As die-hard Blues fan and St. Louis native Jon Hamm said as Don Draper, all you want after finding happiness is more happiness. It’s a constant in this sport, on both sides of the ice. However, the finality of spring that arrives at the gates of hockey never feels cool or warm and hazy like a glass of bourbon before noon. It comes more like a boost, something unexpected even if the difficulties acquired during the collection of the first round of the Cup should not have gone away.
I am happy. Maybe that’s because I didn’t expect this team, especially after watching their game in the first two months of a shortened season, to do much this time around. It’s not just the injuries, the refs, a few players not playing at the expected level, or Craig Berube’s chewing gum calculation on the bench; that’s ALL of that shit, tossed in a blender and set to pulse.
Remember, this is not a normal season. With a long, hard swing, the pandemic shattered normal as Colton Parayko’s slap shatters vulnerable bones in the shoulder compartments. Speaking of # 55, what is he doing there? It’s not hockey, Colton. He plays like Vince Dunn at his worst, only looking like Dolph Lundgren the whole time – but the only thing he breaks is the puck possessions. It’s a jagged season, less than the whole season. The second in a row.
Think about players from the past year, touring two countries in order to complete two seasons that should have been labeled FUBAR. It’s just not normal for anyone.
Bobby Plager’s passing earlier this year still doesn’t seem fair. One of the smoothest, sweetest hockey fans would have made this problematic playoff run feel more digestible and comfortable. He would have surveyed the suites on Friday night in that 5-1 loss, muttering to himself and his soul. Without him here, this season doesn’t feel right at all.
It could be wrong, but Blues fans and their families need some time to mourn this guy this summer. Take the time and remember Bobby. The greats demand a tribute that goes beyond a sticker on an arena face or a series of heartfelt feelings. Whenever the team does something that drives me crazy, I think about what Plager would say. In a voice made for the coolest history teacher, he was talking about the “boys” and the way they got along. Suddenly everything would be better. It’s gone and it’s still not going.
Maybe winning the Cup two years ago took the angst out of my system. Winning the Biggest can do that, at least for 3-5 years. You release the accelerator pedal; or you decide not to run your sportsmanship into a brick wall after every loss. I don’t feel broken after a loss. My head is shaking, my legs are moving, and I find something else to do. It’s life.
It is not finished. 3-0 is not 4-0. The Blues could win today and send the series back to the mountains. Momentum is a fickle thing in this business, and it can turn off in no time with the right victory. Perhaps Tarasenko could rise from the ashes of disuse to produce some old looks on this shot. Maybe the Blues can resist allowing the Avs to rack up the scoring chances on Jordan Binnington. He’s standing in front of a goal, not a brick wall.
It is not all his fault. Blaming the goalie in hockey is like blaming the head coach for a game he orchestrated from the bench. It’s flat and insincere, a clear sign that homework isn’t done. It’s ALL’s fault. Berube for his inability to adapt to certain punches and trials of the season. The pool is cooler for a trainer when you lose. It’s Binnington’s fault for not being as amazing as he was two years ago. It’s Ryan O’Reilly’s fault for not cloning himself in February. It’s Doug Armstrong’s fault for hanging on to the deadline.
Right now, the Blues look like the lesser team – and it’s not even close. They walk injured but play faulty hockey at the same time. How do you expect them to suddenly turn things around? If you can’t come up with answers against a team with too many, it will be a short streak. In short, the Blues are just outmatched and underqualified. Simple and boring, but the truth.
Don’t lose sleep over it. It’s not a normal year and we should always be able to taste that grilled marinara drenched in Lord Stanley’s face (we all lived vicariously through the Maroons that day). The honeymoon after a Cup victory is not over, although it faded moderately after Alex Pietrangelo left for the desert. Things are different now, but the team is full of young talent.
Jordan Kyrou may be as deadly as Robert Thomas. The team is playing without its circular saw, Oskar Sundqvist. Tarasenko is a shell of his old self. David Perron is stuck in a quarantine quantum loop, or something. Binnington cannot capture lightning in a bottle. The defensive depth is gone. Has anyone seen Jaden Schwartz recently? He has zero points this season, with a score of -5. Ivan Barbashev can hit anything that moves, but he’s outnumbered. This team has nothing that looks like an executioner or a badass. Just an island of unsuitable toys that won’t do the impossible.
My advice: enjoy the hockey that remains. As Tom Calhoun eloquently said on Facebook on Saturday night, take what’s coming and get ready to do more this fall. Whether or not they lose tonight, hockey will be back in October. No kidding. No pandemic is holding him back.
The Blues might not win anything this spring, but hopefully the fans win something normal. I will make this compromise this year. You should too. Come on Blues. You can run for a long time, but if you fall, every fan will be triggered for the next hit, game, or victory.
This is sport for you. It takes, you give, and the wheel keeps turning. But every now and then it does magic. A few years ago, the magic died against Colorado. Two years ago, it was sublime and unbeatable. This year, hope may run out too soon. Next year, it will be … who knows? Just play “Gloria” and close your eyes a bit.
Thanks for reading and so long for a while,