It was Monday, May 12, 1986.
The Blues were facing elimination at the hands of the Calgary Flames. Sixteen years had already passed since the Blues were eliminated four games to zero at the hands of the Boston Bruins and a flying Bobby Orr. The Flames, still a young franchise and only six years removed from playing in Atlanta, were seeking their first berth en route to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Flames, who featured stars like Joe Mullen, Mike Vernon, Al MacInnis and Brett Hull (watching from the press box) opened up a big lead in the second period and with only 12 minutes remaining in the third period – and possibly the Blues’ season, something miraculous happened.
First, Brian Sutter got the Blues to within two goals. Then Greg Paslawski scored to bring them to within one. With just under two minutes left, Paslawski netted another goal to tie the game. But the miracle wasn’t over.
With 12 minutes and 30 seconds left in the first overtime period, Blues forward Doug Wickenheiser scored to send the Blues to game seven.
That was where the magic ended. The Blues lost 2-1 in game seven. You wouldn’t know it with the way the Monday Night Miracle is celebrated in St. Louis…but such is the fortune of a team that hasn’t seen the Stanley Cup finals since the year The Jackson 5 had their first number one hit; “You Celebrate Getting Close.”
Since that magical night in 1986, a number of things have happened. The Berlin wall fell, DNA was introduced into criminal courts as evidence, the first text message was sent and the World Wide Web was invented.
One thing hadn’t happened since then: the Blues had never gotten to within one win of the Stanley Cup Finals. Until this past Sunday.
After an absolutely dominant performance against a reeling San Jose Sharks team, the Blues find themselves one win away with a chance to clinch at home Tuesday night.
In a game that saw the first Blues hat trick in the conference finals, the first Blues playoff goal on a penalty shot and the first-ever playoff shutout by a Blues rookie goaltender, the Blues stomped the Sharks 5-0 in San Jose, outshooting them 36-10 in the final two periods.
Perhaps even worse for the Sharks than the trio of goals scored by Jaden Schwartz in game five is the trio of big-name players who left game five hurt and looking rough. Tomas Hertl, Joe Pavelski and Erik Karlsson all left the game with various ailments and are questionable at best for a critical game six in St. Louis.
Almost as big of a story as Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington’s stellar play is San Jose goaltender Martin Jones’ less than stellar play. Jones has looked shaky at times and has been picked apart on the high glove side, most recently on Vladimir Tarasenko’s penalty shot goal. He has also struggled controlling rebounds including a play where he batted the puck right to Schwartz for one of his three goals on Sunday.
Jones has surrendered a back-breaking six goals on low danger chances this series with game one standing as the only game he didn’t give up at least one soft goal. When a netminder can’t make the saves that statistically have a low chance of going in, it changes the way the team has to play the game. Jones has done little to inspire confidence in his team this round and for a team that needs its big guns on defence to be free to push offensively, that lack of confidence is a grave condition.
For St. Louis, their top line of Tarasenko, Schwartz and Brayden Schenn is firing on all cylinders, their fourth line is generating chances and averaging a goal per game over the last three games and their goalie is dialled-in and definitely not nervous.
The Sharks would have a huge hill to climb even with a healthy roster, but for a team that is likely to be missing three of its stars – and even if they are in the lineup, they are nowhere near 100% as evidenced by Karlsson’s poor defensive play in game five – the challenge may just be insurmountable.
In 1986, the Blues were low on skill and high on work ethic. The faster and more skilled Flames team that beat them in seven games went on to be easily handled by the Montreal Canadiens in just five games, managing only four goals against rookie goaltender Patrick Roy during that series. Had the Blues found one more night of magic in game seven against the Flames, they would have likely won the right to be the sacrificial lamb against that Canadiens team.
This year is different.
This team has been dominant in long stretches and very resilient after setbacks behind the steel nerves of their own rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. They’ve got speed, size and depth scoring and the Boston team they will face if they advance is not nearly the dominant force the 1986 Canadiens were and they don’t have Bobby Orr like the 1970 Bruins team that ended their last playoff run 49 long years ago.
Tonight is game six. Tonight the Blues look to make history and earn a rematch almost five decades in the making.
The city is wired. The players are anxious. Gloria is cued up. Let’s play hockey!