Head coach Craig Berube’s team was dead last in the standings on 3 January, but then posted the league’s best record before ousting the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, and Bruins in four playoff rounds.
“Once they pulled it together, we were tough to beat,” said Berube, who recorded more penalty minutes as a player (3,149) than any other Stanley Cup-winning coach. “We really were. They really play for each other and care about each other.
It’s the second year in a row that the NHL has witnessed a first-time champion. The Washington Capitals, who entered the NHL in 1975, won their first Cup last year, sweeping the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
St. Louis’s Ryan O’Reilly tied Boston’s Brad Marchand for the playoff points lead (23) and was voted the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP. O’Reilly became the first player to score in four consecutive Stanley Cup final games since Wayne Gretzky in 1985. The 28-year-old Canadian power forward recently honed his winning instincts with two IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship gold medals (2015, 2016) and a World Cup of Hockey title (2017).
O’Reilly gave full credit to his teammates, who played outstanding defence despite being outshot 33-20 in Game Seven and dominated 5-on-5 throughout the series: “We just knew we were going to smother them and not give them anything.”
Marchand, who scored twice and added an assist when the visiting Bruins blanked the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 in Game Seven of the 2011 final, will be primarily remembered in 2019 for going for an ill-advised line change with under 10 seconds left in the first period. That allowed St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo, who led all defencemen with 19 points, to score the eventual Cup winner.
Marchand expressed his pain: “I’m very proud of everyone that worked their ass off all year to get to this point. We’re a hell of a group. We came together. We’re like a family. It hurts.”
St. Louis had no previous Cup champions, while Boston had five 2011 returnees. Besides Marchand, that included captain Zdeno Chara, who played with a broken jaw during this final, plus elite forwards Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and goalie Tuukka Rask, who shone with a 2.02 GAA and 93.4 save percentage. But it didn’t matter in the end.
“I can’t wait to go party with all my fans back home and my family,” said St. Louis-born veteran Patrick Maroon. “This is a night I’ll never forget.”
Binnington’s career has taken off since the days when he backed up Malcolm Subban at the 2013 World Juniors in Ufa, Russia, posting a 6.82 GAA and 87.1 save percentage in two appearances. With 24 regular season wins in 32 games, the St. Louis goalie is also up against two Swedes, Elias Pettersson of the Canucks and Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres, for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year.
Meanwhile, Blues defenceman Jay Bouwmeester became the 29th member of the Triple Gold Club. The smooth-skating 35-year-old Canadian previously won Worlds gold in 2003 and 2004 and Olympic gold in 2014. It feels hard to believe he played more than 700 NHL games before finally appearing in the playoffs for the first time in 2013.
Known for his low-key demeanour, Bouwmeester put the spotlight squarely on Binnington: “He’s been doing it all year. When he has a tough night, the next game he’s lights-out. You don’t get here without a spectacular goalie.”
The seventeenth Game Seven in Stanley Cup finals history got off to a high-tempo, physical start. Binnington came up huge during the lone Bruins power play as the home team poured it on.
Against the flow, O’Reilly redirected Bouwmeester’s centre point shot for his eighth goal of the playoffs at 16:47. It was just the Blues’ third shot during a first period in which they were outshot 12-4. Then Pietrangelo, unguarded, jumped in to lift a backhander under Rask’s right arm at 19:52.
In the scoreless second period, Chara made a great play to keep the score 2-0. Brayden Schenn got in tight for a shot off Rask that went up and off the crossbar and nearly bounced in off the goalie, but the gigantic Boston captain swept the puck away just in time.
Binnington remained a wall. He made a jaw-dropping right pad save on Joakim Nordstrom in tight midway through the third period.
Then the Blues pulled away. Vladimir Tarasenko beat Chara in a foot race and centered the puck from the corner to Schenn, who gave the Blues a three-goal lead with his one-timer inside Rask’s left post at 11:25. And less than four minutes later, David Perron set up Zach Sanford for his first post-season goal to make it 4-0.
With 2:10 left, Bruins defenceman Matt Grzelcyk, who had not played since Game Two due to a concussion, spoiled Binnington’s shutout bid with Rask pulled for the extra attacker. But there would be no miracle comeback.
“Someone had to win and someone had to lose, and we came out on the wrong side of it,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
It’s the second time the Bruins have lost the Stanley Cup final this decade. They also fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in 2013.
As a young expansion team, the Blues previously lost the 1968 and 1969 finals to the Montreal Canadiens and the 1970 final to the Bruins. Yet that truly feels like ancient history now. Hockey fans are revelling in the craziness of the spring of 2019, which also saw an unheralded Finnish team surprise everyone with gold at the Worlds in Slovakia last month.
Outside St. Louis, fans in Vancouver were arguably the second-happiest with Wednesday’s outcome due to their animosity toward both Boston and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs now have sole possession of the longest active Stanley Cup drought. They last triumphed in 1967.