St. Louis, MO- In a normal St. Louis June, the ongoing series between the Cardinals and Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium is the big game in town. The Cardinals are the most successful National League franchise and the Cubs are the biggest rival St. Louis has; and is also first in their division. Despite all the civil jabbing on display at Busch Stadium last night, the discussion in the stands floated between the 2-1 extra-inning walk-off Cardinal win and the actual big game in town: Game Three of the Stanley Cup Final. Rightly so. The Blues have never actually played a game in the Gregorian calendar’s sixth month.
The last time a Stanley Cup Final Game was played in St. Louis, Richard Nixon was in his first term as President, gas cost $0.36 on average, and the NHL was in its third year with twelve franchises. The Blues made the Final three years in a row to start their franchise existence and only had two rounds of hockey to fight through before the Final. Each year, because of the conference alignment, the Blues’ opponents were other expansion teams with similar faults but less talent. As a result, each of the Blues’ first three trips to the Finals from 1968 until 1970 were contained to the first two weeks of May. Playing hockey this late in the calendar is entirely new to the city of St. Louis.
Playing good hockey is not new on the Mississippi’s shores, though. The Blues have eight missed postseasons in 50 seasons. In fact, they boast nine division championships, more times with a banner than no playoffs. That includes a stretch of 25 consecutive playoff appearances from 1979-1980 until the 2003-2004 season. Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger won Norris Trophies in 1999 and 2000 respectively. Pronger and Brett Hull won Hart Trophies in 2000 and 1991. Hull’s 1991 season stands as a 50 goal in 50 game season and an 86 goal campaign, the highest total for any player not named Wayne Gretzky.
Still, the Blues have been good but not champions. The 25 consecutive playoff runs only saw two Conference Finals appearances (1986 and 2001) and the franchise has only been to three Conference Finals since Bobby Orr flew through the Boston Garden air on May 10th, 1970.
The Finals games themselves played in St. Louis are a mixed bag. The Blues are 0-6 in home Finals games with half of those being one goal games. Two of the one-goal games came in 1968 when the legendary Montreal Canadiens won Game One 3-2 in overtime with Jacques Lemaire scoring the OT winner. Game Two of that series saw Glenn Hall keep St. Louis alive while the Canadiens outshot the Blues 36-19. The only puck that got behind him was a Serge Savard shorthanded goal 2:19 into the third and Gump Worsley stopped all 19 Blues shots. Glenn Hall was voted the Conn Smythe winner that year, the first season of the team’s existence and one of five times the Playoff MVP came from the losing side.
The next season, 1969, Montreal came back to St. Louis for Games Three and Four of the Final and won comfortably in Game Three (4-0). The Blues led 1-0 after the second period of Game Four, but surrendered goals to Ted Harris and John Ferguson in the third to fall in their second straight Final. Montreal Hall of Famer Serge Savard won the Conn Smythe.
The 1970 Finals games in St. Louis were not close. Johnny Bucyk scored a hat trick in Game One for a 6-1 thrashing while Derek Sanderson and Ed Westfall had two goals each in Game Two for a 6-2 blowout. Bobby Orr won the Conn Smythe as the Bruins won the Cup for the first time in 29 seasons and the Blues have not been back since.
Saturday night will be the most exciting night for St. Louis hockey ever. The Blues have already climbed from last place in the NHL to the Stanley Cup Final and won their first ever Final game in Boston. They get the chance to play infront of a pumped home crowd (where the Blues are only 5-5 this postseason somehow) that’s never seen a game this late in the calendar year. Busch Stadium was overtaken with “Let’s Go Blues!” chants as Matt Carpenter dropped a game winning basehit into left field for a 2-1 Cardinal victory over the Cubs last night. Statues of General and President Ulysses Grant and City Founder Pierre Laclede are adorned with Blues jerseys. “Gloria” played over loudspeakers outside the stadium and at bars and clubs. Be sure that St. Louis is ready for the Stanley Cup Final at the Enterprise Center at 7 pm CT.