Now we can really start talking about the Stanley Cup Final after the St. Louis Blues finished off the San Jose Sharks in six games to capture the Western Conference title and earn the right to face the Bruins. It might not be the matchup most were expecting, but it will be intriguing.
One of the big story lines is Bruins forward David Backes skating against his former team. Backes played 10 seasons for the Blues, the last five of which he served as their captain. He signed with the Bruins in the summer of 2016.
This is the first time the organizations will meet in the Final since 1970, when Bobby Orr scored the Cup clincher in overtime as he was tripped by Blues defenseman Noel Picard. The image is considered to be the top moment in NHL history.
Here’s what you need to know about this year’s edition.
How they got here: The Blues were floundering during the regular season and were in last place in January. They made a coaching change, firing Mike Yeo and replacing him with Craig Berube. And they changed goaltenders, replacing Jake Allen with Jordan Binnington. They proceeded to go 38-19-6.
A third-place finish in the Central Division left the Blues opening the playoffs at Winnipeg, and they were able to knock off the Jets in six games. A second-round matchup with the Dallas Stars was next, and St. Louis appeared to be in trouble when the Stars took Games 4 and 5 to bring a 3-2 lead back to Dallas. But St. Louis took a 4-1 decision on the road before closing out the series with a dramatic double-overtime win back home in Game 7.
After splitting the first two games of the conference finals at San Jose, they fell behind, 2-1, when the Sharks prevailed in overtime of Game 3 at St. Louis on a controversial call, with Erik Karlsson scoring the game-winner after the officials missed a hand pass by Timo Meier. St. Louis was able to move past that and won three in a row to advance to the Final.
They’ve got your number: While the Blues were going on their run to reach the playoffs, they picked up a new celebration song, “Gloria,” the 1982 hit by the late Laura Branigan. The idea stems from when Alexander Steen, Joel Edmundson, Robert Bortuzzo, Jaden Schwartz, and Robby Fabbri were watching the Eagles-Bears NFC wild card game at a bar in Philadelphia. Chris Pinkert had the full story on NHL.com.
Players to watch
Jordan Binnington: The rookie goalie went 24-5-1 with an NHL-leading 1.89 GAA and a .927 save percentage.
Jaden Schwartz: After scoring 11 goals in 69 regular-season games, Schwartz has 12 goals in 19 playoff games. He is the first player to have two hat tricks in the same playoffs since Johan Franzen for Detroit in 2008 and he is the first to do it for the Blues.
Ryan O’Reilly: The 10-year veteran had his most productive season with 28 goals and 49 assists to be the leading point-getter for St. Louis.
Vladimir Tarasenko: The seven-year veteran was the leading goal scorer for the Blues with 33, and he has scored at least 33 every year since the 2014-15 season.
Colton Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo, Joel Edmundson, and Jay Bouwmeester: The St. Louis defense plays heavy and brings a lot of size, with Parayko, 26, checking in at 6-6, 230 pounds, and Bouwmeester, 35, at 6-4, 205 pounds. They have formed the top pairing in the playoffs. Pietrangelo, 29, is 6-3, 210 pounds, and is in the second pairing with Edmundson, who is 6-4, 215 pounds.
Pat Maroon: The rugged forward struggled in his first year with his hometown team after signing as a free agent. But he has delivered in the playoffs with three goals and four assists, including the game-winner in double overtime of Game 7 against Dallas to send the Blues to the conference finals. It was a moment that brought his son to tears.
Vince Dunn: Another valued member of St. Louis’s defense, Dunn took a puck to the face in Game 3 against the Sharks and has not played since then.