When Game 3 against the San Jose Sharks ended with that terrible noncall in overtime, it looked like it might be the end of the St. Louis Blues.
In a coin toss of a series with razor thin margins for error, losing an overtime game on a hand-pass goal that never should have counted could have easily broken their back. And their spirit.
Instead of being up 2-1 with home-ice advantage, the Blues were down 2-1. They had every right to feel cheated and angry. It was devastating. It unfairly tipped the scale in San Jose’s favour. Everyone in hockey felt sorry for the Blues, except the Blues.
Looking back, they think it might be the best thing that ever happened to them. They used it as motivation, rather than a source of frustration, and made bloody sure they would never leave their fate in someone else’s hand again.
The Sharks didn’t win another game. St. Louis ran the table, winning Games 4, 5 and 6 by a combined score of 12-2.
“It could have went either way,” said head coach Craig Berube, while the Blues celebrated their Western Conference Championship down the hall at the Enterprise Center. “But our team didn’t want to use that as an excuse. We let it go and moved on and we knew we had to play better.
“We should’ve closed that game out. It never should have gotten to that point. But things happen. They battled and we stayed with it. And we played some really good hockey after that.”
They ran wild after that, actually. And by the end of the series there was nothing left of the team that had that 2-1 series lead.
Vladimir Tarasenko says the turning point might have been that post-game meeting where they vowed not to blame anyone, cry to anyone or play any sort of victim card whatsoever.
“After that OT goal, there were two ways to go,” said Tarasenko. “We can forget it and play even harder or just think about it. Everybody just recognized and realized we can win.
“They (Sharks) have a really good team. I want to give them credit. It was really hard series. I think the biggest reason we won is we stayed tight as a group.”
They credit Berube for helping calm things down and narrow the focus when the Blues could have let the events of Game 3 rattle them. He’s also a driving force behind their revival after a horrible start to the season that got head coach Mike Yeo fired in late November.
“He’s been a big reason, just with the perspective he’s brought in, his attitude,” said defenceman Jay Bouwmeester. “It’s kind of filtered through to everybody. At the start of the year, there was a lot of things going on, and he kind of brought everyone together and gave us a direction.
“Obviously, other things along the way have helped us get here, but I just think it’s his general attitude – the way he can bring that to the rink every day and gradually turn things around.”
Berube is technically still an interim coach, although it seems ridiculous to call him that after he just took this team to the Cup final, and after general manager Doug Armstrong already said he’s getting a contract when the season is over. If you ask the players, they knew he was the right man a long time ago.
“He gets to the point,” said Bouwmeester. “He doesn’t beat around the bush about what’s going on or what needs to get done. He’s made us realize that if we do what he says and what he wants us to do, we’re a pretty good team.”
They are a remarkable comeback story in many ways. From Game 3, from last place, from a fired coach. What the Blues have accomplished is truly a testament to the players in the room who refuse to give up no matter what.
“We stuck together, we kept believing in each other,” said captain Alex Pietrangelo. “To go through what we went through this year is not easy. I’m sure people questioned me (as captain) and questioned the group. Sometimes you question yourself.
“But you have to lean on the people around you. When you have a group that’s as close as ours is, the hard times are hard but you can have those hard and honest conversations with each other and we did that when things weren’t going well.”
And now, let’s just say that watching the Blues celebrate their first conference title in 49 years while their theme song Gloria blasted through the arena was one of the cooler things to see in sports in a long time.
“It’s obviously a great feeling,” said Berube. “For everyone. The fans, our organization, ownership, management, players, training staff – everybody’s involved. They all deserve credit. We’re moving on to the finals. It’s a great feeling.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019