BOSTON — The 2018-19 Blues, a team once given up for dead, on Wednesday achieved hockey immortality.
The Blues completed the longest road back in hockey history with a 4-1 win over the Bruins at TD Garden, giving the franchise its first Stanley Cup in its 52-year existence. And they did it an unprecedented way, coming back from having the fewest points in the league on Jan. 3 to being a dominant team the final half of the season.
Ryan O'Reilly and Alex Pietrangelo scored in the first period for the Blues and Brayden Schenn added an insurance goal with 8:35 to go in the third. Zach Sanford, who grew up in the Boston area and went to Boston College, scored with 4:38 to play to put it further in the bag.
O'Reilly, acquired in a trade with Buffalo on July 1 and the team's most dependable player over the course of the season, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the postseason.
"You dream of this for so long," said O'Reilly, who cracked a rib in the Dallas series. "As a kid, that feeling comes back to you of just what it means to win this thing. I still can't believe this. I can't believe I'm here right now and a Stanley Cup champion with this group of guys."
Jordan Binnington stopped the first 32 shots he faced, including 12 in the first period where Boston came strongly at him and could have scored more than once, before Matt Grzelcyk scored with 2:10 to play. In the third period, with the Blues protecting a 2-0 lead, he extended his right pad to stop a shot by Joakim Nordstrom that seem fated to make it 2-1.
“I think Binner really set the tone for us early," center Tyler Bozak said. "They came out really hard. They got a lot of good scoring chances. And he shut the door. He made incredible saves and gave us that confidence that he was dialed in, like he was all year. Just to get that first goal was kind of a relief, and we built from there. We played our style on the road. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.”
At the final horn, the Blues spilled out on to the ice, heading for Binnington in goal and engulfing him in a sea of blue and white. Gear and equipment littered the ice as the team joyously celebrated. It was Binnington who led the handshake line after the game, starting with an extended talk with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
"We did it," said forward Pat Maroon, the Oakville, Mo., product who came home to sign with the Blues this season. "We did it. I mean, there’s nothing else. I mean, we put everything on the line from January 3 on and we deserve this and what a way to finish it.
"On the road, where we play great, and all these people, all these media, doubted us all year long and we shoved it right up their ass. I mean, it’s amazing. Who wouldn’t like this? Being from St. Louis, and signing in St. Louis, and winning the Stanley Cup and bringing it home and being with my family and friends, I can’t wait for these next few days. This is truly something I’ll never forget. Me and my son will take this to our grave and we’ll have memories for life."
“It doesn’t feel real," said Schenn. "It’s absolutely incredible. I can’t even explain. It feels like a video game we’re in. it’s what you dream of as a kid, posing with the Stanley Cup, getting to lift it. It’s a special group and fun to be a part of. We’re going to party hard.”
After Commissioner Gary Bettman presented the Cup to Pietrangelo, the captain, he skated it over to Jay Bouwmeester, who has played 1,184 games over 16 seasons and finally got his sport's Holy Grail. Bouwmeester then handed it off to Alexander Steen, who has played 963 games, and then he handed it off to Chris Thorburn, another veteran, though one who played just one minute, 52 seconds this season.
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After failing in their first chance to take the Cup on Sunday at home, the Blues went where they have done best for much of this season, the road. The Blues finished the playoffs with a 10-3 record on the road, tying the NHL record for most postseason wins on the road. In the Final, they won three of four games played at TD Garden.
Never great, usually good, always cursed, the Blues are the first team in the expansion era (since 1967-68) to be last in the standings at any point after the 30th game of the season and win the Stanley Cup.
With a massive crowd watching back in St. Louis, both in Enterprise Center and Busch Stadium, the franchise's years of suffering were finally rewarded. As the final horn sounded, it was rhapsody in blue.
"To bring a Cup to a city for a first time is crazy," forward Jaden Schwartz said. "Tough to put into words. These fans have been waiting a long time. It's exciting. We're going to have a lot of fun with it."
The Blues, who held the distinction of having played the most games in NHL history without winning the Stanley Cup, now can claim the distinction of having the longest wait – 51 seasons – for a team to win its first championship. Previously, the title went to fellow expansion team the Los Angeles Kings, who won in their 44th season, 2011-12. (The mantel for most games without a title now passes to Vancouver and Buffalo.)
O'Reilly got the Blues started and then Pietrangelo added a goal in the closing seconds of the first period as the Blues scored twice on just four shots on goal in the first. In the second period, the Blues were outshot 11-6 but kept the Bruins off the board.
Jay Bouwmeester took a shot from the blueline that O'Reilly tipped in for the first goal with 3:13 to go in the period. That gave O'Reilly a goal in four straight games -- and five goals in four games -- and a point in six straight. O'Reilly is just the fourth player in NHL history to have the first goal for his team in four straight games.
O'Reilly has 22 points in the postseason are the most for a Blue in one postseason. His eight points in the Final are the most by a Blue in a career in a Stanley Cup Final, passing Frank St. Marseille.
The Blues got stuck in their own end late in the period before Jaden Schwartz finally got the puck out. He took the puck into the Bruins zone, where he passed to Pietrangelo, who skated toward the net, across the slot to get some space, and backhanded it in with 7.9 seconds to go in the first.
Pietrangelo also had an assist on the O'Reilly goal, giving him 19 points in the postseason.
Binnington stopped all 12 shots he faced in the first period, and some of the shots were tough ones by the Bruins. The Bruins had 22 shot attempts to eight for the Blues in the first. After two periods, the shots were 23-10 for the Bruins and the shot attempts were 40-22.
But the Blues held strong.