ST. LOUIS — Folks here were ready to knock down the Gateway Arch and party like it was 1999 — back in the days when they had a team that went on to win the town’s only Super Bowl.
The city that gave the world Stanley Musial was going to win its first Stanley Cup, and as many as 40,000 ticketless fans gathered outside the arena in anticipation of victory. The Cup was in the house, and the Blues were ready to claim it for the first time in their 52-year history.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch didn’t even bother to wait. Sunday’s e-edition of the local journal delivered several messages of congratulations many hours before the start of Game 6. The premature puck elation included a letter from Blues chairman Tom Stillman, thanking fans for a “dream come true” and referencing how excited he was about the upcoming parade on Market Street.
“All of us will remember where we were, what we did, and how we felt when the Blues brought the Cup home,’’ wrote Stillman. “We can finally say, ‘We won the Cup for St. Louis.’ ’’
No. Instead they will remember the Boston Bruins skating into the Enterprise Center Sunday and stuffing the corks back into their champagne bottles with a 5-1 Game 6 win. Brad Marchand, Brandon Carlo, Karson Kuhlman, David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara (into an empty net) scored and Tuukka Rask channelled Tim Thomas from 2011.
Game 7 will be played Wednesday night on Causeway Street.
For the Stanley Cup.
At the Garden.
Which is what this thunderous series deserves.
There’s more, of course. If the Bruins can win just one more game, Boston will have the reigning champion in three of the four major sports, joining the 2018 Red Sox World Series winners and Bill Belichick’s latest Super Bowl heroes. No city has held three championship simultaneously since Detroit did it with the Tigers, Lions, and Red Wings in 1935-36.
Not to go all St. Louis on you, but winning at home would make things even sweeter. Only two of New England’s 12 21st century champions have clinched in Boston. The Celtics beat the Lakers at the Garden in 2008 and the Red Sox danced on the Fenway lawn after beating the Cardinals in 2013. The other titles were won in New Orleans, Houston (twice), St. Louis, Jacksonville, Denver, Vancouver, Glendale (Ariz.), Los Angeles, and Atlanta.
That’s a lot of winning football, baseball, and basketball games, but there is always something special when the Bruins compete for the Cup. Ours is a hockey culture of cold rinks, hot chocolate, and early morning ice time.
“You can do an X-ray of Boston sports and the heart would be a hockey puck-shaped pump,’’ said Richard Johnson, curator of the Boston Sports Museum.
Imagine being boss of a Boston Sports Museum in 2019. That’s like working in the Sistine Chapel during the 16th century and deciding what would hang on the walls.
Boston’s three non-football teams have been involved in 68 Game 7s. The overall record is 40-28, including the Bruins’ Game 7 win over the Maple Leafs at the Garden in April. The Bruins are 15-12 lifetime in Game 7s. They have never won the Stanley Cup in a Game 7 at the Garden. They have won six Stanley Cups, but only twice on Garden ice (1939, 1970).
Game 6 in St. Louis was pretty darned good. After all the emotion of losing Games 4 and 5, and the frustration of the infamous “no call” tripping of Noel Acciari in the third period of Game 5 at the Garden, it was time for the Bruins to fight back. And they did.
Boston’s top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak had been held scoreless in five-on-five play over the first five games of the series, but Marchand blasted a one-timer past Jordan Binnington midway through the first period when the Bruins were on a five-on-three power play. They would spend the rest of the evening holding off the heavy-hitting Blues and trying to make the narrow margin stand. This required more great play by goalie Tuukka Rask, who has emerged as a strong candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy awarded to the best player in the NHL playoffs.
Rask stopped 19 shots in the first two periods.
Carlo made it 2-0 with a softie in the third minute of the third period. His 58-foot knuckleball bounced past Binnington and the Bruins had some breathing room. The immortal Kuhlman got another softie by Binnington with 10 minutes left. He’s the 21st Bruin to score a goal in these playoffs.
There would be no “Gloria” on this night. And no glory for the locals.
St. Louis’s premature celebration was mildly reminiscent of Jack Kent Cooke’s scheduled party when the aging Boston Celtics went to the Los Angeles Forum to play Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals against the Wilt Chamberlain/Jerry West/Elgin Baylor Lakers, On that night, Red Auerbach took note of balloons hanging from the ceiling for the Forum. Somebody in the Celtic entourage got a copy of the postgame celebration that had been planned for LA’s victory. The party included release of the balloons from the arena ceiling and an appearance by the USC marching band.
After the Celtics crashed the party (it was the final game of Bill Russell’s career), Auerbach went on national television and taunted, “What are they gonna do now with all those goddamned balloons?’’
Like the Bruins and the Blues, the Stanley Cup will be packing up and making the trip to Boston. All party plans and parades are on hold until Wednesday.
This series is far from over. The Blues can still storm into Boston and win the Cup on the road. But their golden opportunity was Sunday night in Game 6. And they found out how hard it is to win a fourth game in the Stanley Cup Final.