The St. Louis Blues had lofty expectations in 2018-19, but inner turmoil looked like it would spoil those. Like any good family, it was dealt with and now we are witnessing the benefits.
When the final horn sounded on the 2019 Western Conference Final, the St. Louis Blues were victorious and you could see how far they had come if you followed their entire journey. They went from dysfunctional to cohesive and more in the span of only a few months.
When the 2018-19 season began, the Blues had plenty of talent and that gave their fans plenty of reason to hope. Even Bob Plager was getting excited, telling Ryan O’Reilly to go get him a championship parade when O’Reilly was given his jersey.
O’Reilly got to work on it right away. Some of the other new faces were a little slower to join the party.
Despite the excitement following winning the offseason, most level headed people knew there would be an adjustment period. Even though David Perron had been with the team before, there were four new faces on the forward lines – five if you count Robert Thomas.
You only have 12 forwards on a team at one time. When you have changed almost 50% of that, you are going to need some time to form chemistry. Nobody expected it to take the time it did.
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The Blues got off to one of their slowest starts ever. It might not have been their worst start in franchise history, but as we all know by now, they were in last place in the NHL on January 3.
At that point, it looked like the organization should focus more on the future. There were more discussions about draft position than playoffs.
The team had already fired its coach. It had a momentary affect, but the team could not gain any traction in the standings.
Making matters worse was the quite evident divide in the locker room. Despite our demands to know who the problem was and what was going on, the Blues kept a very tight seal on those locker room doors, which is not always the case when there is this level of discord.
Of course, rumors go around. There were rumors of a divide between those that supported Alexander Steen for captain and those that were behind the C for Alex Pietrangelo, but that was an older feud, so most thought that problem had been settled. Perhaps not.
Brayden Schenn was somewhat vocal about his displeasure with Vladimir Tarasenko and his penchant for floating around the offensive zone instead of occupying a position. A tension-filled relationship would have made sense there, but those two also seemed to play together reasonably well. Again, no concrete answers.
A reliable source of mine did let it slip that Pat Maroon was ready to get out of town by that point. Despite all the feel good nature of coming home and playing in front of his son, things were bad enough behind the scenes that Big Rig wanted to be gone.
My, how things changed. Lots of people deserve credit, but Craig Berube deserves the most. Nobody outside that locker room knows what is said, but he went in there and told them how it was going to be in a way that left no uncertain terms. Players were going to put their pettiness behind them and come together or they might all be looking for new places to work, including Berube.
It was clearly not a desperate plea. It came from a no nonsense guy who had been through the wars and likely seen this kind of disention in a locker room before. He stamped it out like a dying ember clinging to that last breath of air, searching for dry kindling.
The players deserve credit too. We have all worked with people we did not care for or even hated and sometimes it just isn’t possible to be the bigger man/woman. In this case, the entire locker room manged to be the bigger man.
Schenn and Tarasenko are on one of the hotter top lines in the league right now. Maroon has emerged as a leader for this team.
Of course, an 11-game win streak does tend to turn your attitudes around. The old saying says winning cures everything.
But, with this team, it became something more. They truly became a family.
Early in the season, fans and talk show hosts alike kept saying that they did not need everyone in that room to like one another or sit at the campfire and sing Kumbaya. You do have to play together on the ice.
The Blues probably still do not sit around campfires, but they seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. Their journey to the Stanley Cup Final showed that.
In moments of pure happiness, you usually look to celebrate with someone you care about and enjoy. Schenn repeatedly sought out Tarasenko in those moments when goals were scored or games won. You can argue it was just they were closest on the ice, but that was not the sense most got.
Egos were put aside for the betterment of the team. Instead of pouting about playing time or feeling what he is deserved, you did not hear a peep from Jake Allen until asked by the media throng prior to Game 1 against Boston. As you would expect he said all the right things saying he was just enjoying this ride and being their for his team.
Some might have overlooked it, but it was hard to ignore where the focus of the players went after winning the Western Conference. When the handshakes were done and the pictures taken, the dressed players turned their attention to all the guys wearing suits on the bench.
Those were the players, whether by injury or coach’s decisions, that missed out on playing. Those that did play knew those other guys had just as big a part in getting this far as anyone. They put in just as much work in practice and went through all the morning skates and workouts.
They deserved to be there. Instead of treating them like an afterthought, they were at the forefront. They got some of the biggest hugs of anyone, including Chris Thorburn, who played all of two minutes in the NHL this season.
Those guys were a part of the team and they knew it. They were not just mulling about like film extras that might get a credit but were not part of the big picture. They were excited and celebrating with their teammates.
Looking back, maybe they were a family the entire time and we just could not see it. All families go through rough times. We all have that member of the family that we’d rather avoid at various times because of real or imagined slights.
Speaking of family, check out this video of the real Schwartz family.
In the end, you come together because there is love there. There are bonds formed that are not easily broken, even if you have temporary dislike in the moment.
That is what happened with this team. Nobody wanted them to struggle and if they had it to do over again, they would avoid those early season struggles. That all brought them together though. It helped show them what they could be if they stuck together.
Now, they are united in this final goal. Now, fans are hoping for that one final family portrait with something silver in the middle of it.