This is for history, and legacy, and to cap a comeback story so ridiculous no Hollywood screenwriter would come within a blue line of touching it.
Most importantly, as far as the St. Louis Blues are concerned, it’s for the Stanley Cup.
When they take the Enterprise Center ice Sunday night in Game 6 of the Finals, they’ll own a 3-2 lead on the Boston Bruins. Not only could they become the first Cup winner since the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015 to skate the Cup around home ice, they could cap a worst-to-first story six months in the making.
“We know what Sunday is,” said captain Alex Pietrangelo, “but the group is calm and we’ve done a really good job of refocusing after games. I don’t really get a feel from anybody that the emotions are too high right now.”
That’s in stark contrast to Boston. As the series has shifted in St. Louis’ favor, the Bruins’ message has shifted. Instead of worrying about improving their 5-on-5 play or fixing a potent power play that has suddenly misfired the last two games, they have instead zeroed in on the officials.
A missed tripping/kneeing call on Tyler Bozak against Noah Acciari led directly to David Perron’s goal midway through the third period for a 2-0 lead. Boston fans tossed garbage on the ice afterwards and heaved another helping of trash at the Blues as they skated off the ice.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy made his feelings abundantly clear in a postgame rant that should have come with a ringing cash register as the soundtrack. Among other things, he said his team got “screwed” on the call and that his players were cursing the call as they yelled at the officials.
On Friday, during his media availability, Cassidy displayed a grudging acceptance of the situation.
“I thought it was a missed call that impacted the game unfortunately in a negative way,” he said. “I’m also a fan of the game. We’re ambassadors for the game. We’re trying to grow the game. I’d rather talk about that than missed calls that affect the game.”
One of the missed calls that Cassidy might have thought about came back to cost St. Louis a key forward for Sunday night. Ivan Barbashev drew a one-game suspension from the NHL for an illegal check to the head of Marcus Johansson, a play that wasn’t penalized by referees Kelly Sutherland or Steve Kozari.
Barbashev is the second member of the Blues’ fourth line to earn a suspension during the series. Oskar Sundqvist sat out Game 3 after he boarded Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk during a 3-2 overtime win in Game 2.
“A lot like Sundqvist,” St. Louis interim coach Craig Berube said of Barbashev. “Heavy hockey, good defensive stuff, penalty kill, just relentless on the puck and the forecheck. Somebody will come in and do the job for sure.”
On January 7, the Blues took a 16-19-4 record to Philadelphia for a game with the equally bad Flyers. They called up a rookie goalie from San Antonio of the AHL. On that Monday night, Jordan Binnington stopped 25 shots for a 3-0 shutout.
From that point, St. Louis went 29-9-5, nearly winning the Central Division on the final night of the regular season before a Nashville win over Chicago put the Predators in first place. Since then, it has eliminated Winnipeg, Dallas and San Jose.
Binnington and his 39-14-1 record – 15-9 in the playoffs – have been the prime reason. But as Berube said, everybody has been doing the job.
One more win and that job is complete.
“I think we’re looking at it as we want to get ready for the next game,” said forward Alexander Steen. “We’re looking at what we need to do to get better and stay inside our routines.”