It’s zero fun to be the Other Team in an iconic sporting moment, to be the ones forever memorialized for giving way or falling down or screwing up. Take hockey’s most famous photo, the one of an open-mouthed and aloft Bobby Orr in the spring of 1970, his body levitating over a carved-up sheet of ice. There is Orr, his outline crisp against the ad-free boards, his gloved hands raised in triumph. There are the hundreds of delirious fans going buckwild in the background, having just watched the Boston Bruins complete a sweep of the St. Louis Blues in overtime to win the Stanley Cup. And then there are the losers: a discombobulated goalie and a defenseman with a thousand-yard stare, each having their really shitty day preserved, gorgeously, forevermore. It’s easy to overlook those poor guys, unless you happen to be a Blues fan, in which case it’s probably hard to notice anything else.
That Bobby Orr picture has been popping up everywhere recently, ever since the Blues defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games to advance to the Stanley Cup final against the Bruins, who have been sitting idle since they swept the Carolina Hurricanes months ago. (OK, it’s been a week and a half, but still!) The Orr photo has become its own topic of conversation: Last week, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said that even as a kid growing up in Ottawa, he found the photo to be such a banger that he cut it out of the newspaper and taped it to his wall, where it remained until it yellowed.
The Bruins have competed for eight more championships since that picture was taken and won twice, in 1972 and 2011. Five players from that latter Cup-winning squad—the one that beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven outrageous games—are not only still on the Bruins, they are the team’s beating heart. For Boston, history is well worth the embrace.
As for the Blues … well, the Bobby Orr photo shows both the last time they made the Stanley Cup final, and also the third consecutive time they were swept upon getting there. And yet somehow, while the image may depict the most well-known Other Team moment for St. Louis, it somehow doesn’t show the bleakest. That honor would go to the time in 1996 that the Detroit Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman scored in double overtime of a Game 7 while Wayne Gretzky looked on, a moment so major (for someone else) that we got one of those rad “History Will Be Made” commercials out of it nearly 15 years later.
I bring this up not to troll Blues fans, who have certainly been through enough over the years, but more so as a reminder of what all that “enough” represents. It is making the playoffs every season for a full quarter-century, from 1980 to 2004, but advancing past the second round during that span only twice. It is the organization forfeiting the 1983 draft (Yzerman’s year! Also Dominik Hasek!) during a dispute with the league that involved a dog food company, the city of Saskatoon, and a hilariously self-sabotaging tantrum. It is watching numerous beloved Blues, like Brett Hull and Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger and Brendan Shanahan and Al Arbour and T.J. Oshie, all win Stanley Cups—somewhere else.
For nearly its entire existence, save for a particularly rough patch in the aughts, the Blues franchise has been one of the most frustrating types of organizations: a perennial contender and an annual disappointment. But this year, that order of operations has been reversed. The team sat in last place in the league as recently as January. They fired head coach Mike Yeo and appointed as an interim assistant Craig Berube, a former NHL enforcer whose only previous head coaching experience was two grim years with the Flyers. Then they roared back to not only make the playoffs but also to grind through three closely fought rounds, blasting their victory song “Gloria” again and again (and again) while they did. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they have to face the Bruins next, as if all the other demons weren’t already enough.
With Game 1 scheduled for Monday night in Boston, here are some questions that loom over this year’s Cup final.
Can David Backes carry on a longstanding tradition of former St. Louis players winning Cups with not-the-Blues?
When the Blues beat the Sharks in the Western Conference final, it precluded a story line that would have come up once or twice: Joe Thornton, once a masterful but maligned Boston Bruin, leading San Jose in a bold quest for revenge against his former employer. Instead, the “guy plays his old team” thread in this final is slightly more wholesome and bland: David Backes, former Blues captain, is now a Boston Bruin, even if he’s no longer the elite player he once was.
Backes is a gem of a guy IRL. He pilots dog-saving aircraft, for starters. Writing in The Players’ Tribune last year, current Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo recalled opening the sun shade in his car one day and having a heartfelt letter from Backes fall out; weeks earlier, at Pietrangelo’s wedding, Backes had tipped a valet to let him hide the encouraging note in his car. But this is the Stanley Cup, and none of that matters anymore. “He doesn’t know when he’s going to get another kick at the cat here,” explained Bruins coach Cassidy, who must be a dog person, last week.
Who will cause the most outrage?
When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the series wasn’t just a doozy on the ice, it was an absolute bonanza off of it. Tires were pumped, and fingers were bitten, and faces were punched, and suspensions were levied, and people were mad, and anarchy reigned, and I daresay that most of it generally ruled. From that era the Bruins continue to employ Brad Marchand, who despite being Canadian is pretty much the human incarnation of the city of Boston: smirking and needling and enormously successful at both. Last year, he licked people’s faces to get an edge.
This year, he’s moved on to the dark arts of the sucker punch and the petulant postgame interview. His is an unrivaled talent, and I mean that sincerely. The Blues’ best hope, in terms of driving opposing players and fans absolutely up the wall, is probably David Perron, who can chirp and cheap-shot with the best of them and knows it. (Perron, by the way, has had one of the stranger career paths: He has signed four NHL contracts in his life, all of them with the Blues, and is currently on his third separate stint with the team, having also played in four other cities since 2013.) Jordan Binnington also has compelling potential, actually …
What’s the deal with this Jordan Binnington fellow?
An incomplete list of things about Jordan Binnington, the starting goalie for the St. Louis Blues:
- He was the team’s fourth-string goalie—this season.
- Since then, he has gone 36-12-1 in the regular season and playoffs for the Blues.
- Last season, a series of events that began with his refusal to report for a minor-minor league assignment led to him being loaned to … the Providence Bruins, farm team for the Boston Bruins!
- He once answered a question with an excellent question of his own:
Jordan Binnington on if he was nervous playing in close games: “Do I look nervous?” Reporter: “No.” Binnington: “There’s your answer” pic.twitter.com/A2I3mlkKbL— Heart of NHL (@HeartofNHL) February 27, 2019
- When the Blues won to advance to their first Cup final in 49 years, Binnington absolutely wilded out in net, tapping the posts of his goal multiple times, as opposed to just once or not at all, as is his custom.
- He did bad tweets in the past.
Who is the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Award?
Right now, it’s probably the other goalie, Boston’s Tuukka Rask, who has been playing lights-out hockey this postseason and boasts a 1.84 GAA and a .942 (!!!) save percentage. Rask has had some tough postseason appearances, but this season he’s been the platonic ideal of the “hot playoff goalie” and would almost certainly be a shoo-in if the Bruins were to win the Cup.
But who else? Unfortunately, the Conn Smythe can’t be given to an entire line, or we might have had a fascinating and pedantic battle between who is technically more valuable to their team: the Bruins’ otherworldly yet workmanlike first line, which can be summed up extremely well by this photo, or the Blues’ fantastic fourth line, which is anchored by a 35-year-old veteran, Alex Steen, who not long ago was having 50- and 60-point seasons but has taken to his new role with a flourish.
Other more valid contenders, depending on how things go down in the Cup final, include the Blues’ Jaden Schwartz, who has scored 12 goals in 19 playoff contests (including two different hat tricks!) after recording just 11 in 69 regular-season games this year; Vladimir Tarasenko, who is St. Louis’s most exciting player; and whichever David—Pastrnak or Krejci—inevitably scores like three more game-winning goals for the Bruins before the season is complete.
Speaking of seasons being complete, can we take a moment just to clown on the Pittsburgh Penguins?
Heck yeah! If the Blues were to sweep the Bruins in the next week, the Penguins will have been swept by a team that got swept by a team that got swept by a team that got swept by a team, a true matryoshka doll of embarrassment. Neutral fans, you know what to do!
Who will cause the happiest tears?
The Stanley Cup final is technically about hockey, I guess, but it’s also about triangulating precisely which human interest stories related to which bearded man will make you ugly-cry hardest at your desk at like 8 a.m. on a Wednesday. Contenders this time around range from Pat Maroon—a Blues player who grew up locally and who made his son joyfully weep when he scored in double overtime of Game 7 against the Dallas Stars—to Blues fan Laila Anderson, to Backes, to that kid (that … young man?!) who attends all the Boston victory parades with a sign tallying all the championships he has seen in his life. (Currently, it’s 12 in 17 years.) Just kidding about that last part, obviously: The only way Sign Kid could make me cry happy tears is if one day I showed up to give him a ride to a championship parade and he had peaced out of town altogether.
Can you explain the importance of the Philadelphia Eagles to this Stanley Cup?
Try as you might, it’s impossible to escape the crushing omnipresence of Philly sports. In early January, during some of the lowest low points of the Blues’ weirdly bifurcated season, a bunch of players went out to a Philadelphia bar to watch the Eagles play the Bears in the NFC wild-card game, and during commercial breaks watched as a DJ fired up all the Fluffyans by blaring the 1982 hit “Gloria.” (What I want to know is whether the DJ prefers I, Tonya or American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.) Under Berube, the team began winning games, and the rest of their season turned into a sports movie montage with “Gloria” as their chosen, celebrated, impossibly earnest soundtrack.
Another music question: Why do a bunch of Missourians belt out “West Virginia, mountain mama!” during Blues home games?
That one is really confusing to first witness, but it’s essentially the same idea: The team won a game, the arena music guy superstitiously repeated a song again the next time, and it turned into a whole thing. Look, did I mention that Blues fans have been through a lot?
Just out of curiosity, does either team happen to feature a guy who is an ironman of an NHL player competing in his 16th season, but who nevertheless looks like a guy you’d make small talk with about the Tour de France while you both wait to receive faxes in the hotel lobby business center?
Yes! Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has the look of a man with opinions on cycling and office supplies, and yet he also has an Olympic gold medal.
Jay Bouwmeester has always been gleaming with excitement during his NHL career, but scroll to see his reaction when the Blues clinched their Stanley Cup Final berth! @theroyalhalf @wyshynski @PeteBlackburn @DownGoesBrown pic.twitter.com/NYCaWgPIhJ— The Mouth (@TheMouthLAKings) May 22, 2019
What about a guy who played through a punctured lung, separated shoulder, and broken rib the last time the Bruins were in the Stanley Cup final, and later stated he’d do it all over again?
Yes! When Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron isn’t busy shutting out his own excruciating pain, he’s busy shutting down all the other team’s top talents. No offense to Mister Selke, but they really oughta consider renaming that award.
Patrice Bergeron top matchups by series— Bruins Stats (@bruins_stats) May 17, 2019
65 min, John Tavares on-ice for 1 goal
35 min, Artemi Panarin on-ice for 1 goal
30 min, Teuvo Teravainen on-ice for 0 goals
Bergeron is one of five guys—Marchand, Krejci, Rask, and Zdeno Chara are the others—to have won the Cup in 2011. (Defenseman Torey Krug wasn’t on that team, but he was on the team that lost to Chicago in the final two seasons later.) With that in mind, I was kind of surprised to be reminded of Bergeron’s relative age. He’s nearly a decade younger than Chara!!!
Wait, how old is Chara?!
Our tall dad is 42, and continues to be an absolute legend. I read an article about him the other day that said he refuses to use the term “rookie,” finding it divisive! His (poor, ignored) defensive partner for most of this season, Charlie McAvoy, is literally half his age! (And basically half his size?) A few years back, he asked some Olympic ice dancers he’s friendly with if they’d mind sending him some offseason skating drills so he could work on his edges! I stan a quadragenarian bunnyman!
While we're at it lets bring back Zdeno Chara in a bunny suit pic.twitter.com/J11muJj9Oj— Degenerate (@508_gavin) March 27, 2016
Who are the other defensemen to watch?
Torey Krug is always an offensive threat for the Bruins, while the top pairing for St. Louis features captain Alex Pietrangelo, who has a Blues-defenseman-record 13 points this playoff season, and the beastly 6-foot-6 ’80s action movie villain/Gronkelgänger Colton Parayko.
Has anybody ever seen Colton Parayko and Rob Gronkowski in the same room? pic.twitter.com/YfO8Q56U9B— Daniel Fritz (@dmfritz88) May 18, 2019
What is the most annoying ramification of this Cup final?
The way it gives unimpeachable power to the Gary Bettman Loser Point, the official name given to the point teams pick up in the standings for a regulation tie even if they go on to lose in overtime. This policy can be unpopular among NHL talking heads, who dislike the fact that it makes overtime games essentially “worth” more points (three) than regular ones (two) and in doing so gives the league an artificial feeling of parity. This, conspiracy theorists argue, gives fans false hope (and keeps them tuning in longer, of course). Now that the Blues, who sat in last place as recently as January 3, went on a 30-10-5 tear and very nearly won their division, we’ll never ever get rid of the GBLP.
Any good celebrity fans?
Get ready for a Don Draper overload: You’ll be hearing Jon Hamm’s voice during commercials AND seeing him in the stands during games. Apparently Conor McGregor is a Bruins fan? And it’s no Sansa Stark chugging wine at a Rangers game, but this was cute, I guess:
Pop quiz, hotshot: Who will win, and in how many games?
”It’s a binary decision now,” Backes said the other day. “It’s us, or them. There is no third party. No ties. None of that stuff. One of us is going to win the Cup.” So who will it be? The Bruins have quietly been good all season, but as the playoffs have worn on and other teams have worn down they have somehow gotten only louder and better. Probably they will win in six games, meaning greedy Boston fans will whine that they still haven’t gotten to see their B’s win a Cup at TD Gaaahden, kid.
Wait, aren’t you the person who wrote about how good the Tampa Bay Lightning were, and then they got swept in the first round? Why should I listen to you?
Honestly, you really shouldn’t. Blues in seven, baby! Take the Cup home, geographically imprecise country roads. Gloria.