Pat Maroon

The Wraparound: It’s all on the line for Bruins, Blues

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

This is it.

It’s all on the line tonight for the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins (8 p.m. ET; NBC). One team will skate around the TD Garden with the Stanley Cup. Which team will that be?

“Winning and losing, it sticks with you forever,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “You don’t forget everything that happens when you win, and you definitely don’t forget what happens when you lose. Unfortunately, there’s going to be both sides of that (on Wednesday), and we’ll see how it plays out.”

Of course, many Bruins know what it’s like to win it all and they also know what it’s like to lose in the Stanley Cup Final. As for the Blues, many of them haven’t been in this position. Will that make a difference tonight?

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“It’s definitely hard when you lose, because you work for this your whole life,” Blues forward David Perron, who went to the Stanley Cup Final with Vegas last year, said on Tuesday. “So you want to make the best of it, definitely.”

The Blues had an opportunity to close out the Bruins at Enterprise Center in Game 6, but that didn’t work out the way they had hoped, as they dropped a 5-1 decision on home ice. That was clearly their best opportunity to win the Stanley Cup, but they now get another chance to do so on the road at TD Garden.

The good news is that the Blues have been a remarkably good team on the road in the postseason.

“I just think we get to our game easier on the road,” Blues forward Pat Maroon said. “Maybe (we’re) thinking too much at home. Being at home, there could be pressure or whatever. It should be no excuses, but I just feel like we get to our game (on the road). We find ways to make it difficult on the opponent and we do it pretty good.”

If St. Louis can play their simple road game and they get a strong performance out of goalie Jordan Binnington, they’ll be in prime position to come away with a victory in the biggest game in franchise history.

As for the Bruins, they’ll need their top players to come up big tonight. Their top line has been quiet during certain stretches in this series, but they are capable of blowing Game 7 wide open.

We’re only hours away from the biggest game of the 2018-19 season.

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Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blue no more: Patrick Maroon’s perfect St. Louis homecoming

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Each morning Anthony Maroon woke up during a visit to see his father, he’d ask his grandmother how many days he had left with him.

Nine? All smiles.

The goodbyes were brutal. Patti Maroon told her grandson she couldn’t guarantee she wouldn’t cry, but she’d try.

By the last day, she had to wear sunglasses to keep Anthony from seeing the tears in her eyes. Then they’d pull up to the airport and Anthony would scream, ”I want my daddy!”

”It was heart-wrenching,” Patti said.

Patrick Maroon played his first eight NHL seasons away from his son, who lived with his mother in the St. Louis suburbs. When he was a free agent last summer, he had a more lucrative offer from the New Jersey Devils and a multiyear offer from the San Jose Sharks to weigh against a deal for $1.75 million with the St. Louis Blues for just this season.

He agonized over the decision and ultimately took less, betting on himself to play for his hometown team in front of his son and surrounded by his tightknit family. After a rough start to the season for him, Maroon helped the Blues make the playoffs, scored the double-overtime series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the second round against Dallas and now is in the Stanley Cup Final with the team he always yearned to play for.

”It’s meant the world to me,” Maroon said. ”As a kid, you dream of this your whole life and to come back home and play for your team you grew up watching your whole life, and to actually live out your dream and actually put your skates on and play (in) the Stanley Cup finals, it’s a pretty cool moment for me. Not only a cool moment for me, but my dad that’s been a season ticket holder and Blues fan, my mom, my family, my son. It’s been really cool and very special: a lot of highs, a lot of lows, but we’re getting through this together.”

There was the criticism for taking the No. 7 Keith Tkachuk wore, jeers in the stands his parents had to hear, sessions with a sports psychologist, a franchise-record 11-game winning streak, the death of his grandfather the day before the playoffs began, his game-winning assist in the postseason opener, his overtime heroics and an emotional meeting with his family after making the Cup Final.

Those are some significant highs and lows. Now Maroon is on the ultimate high, playing for the Blues against the Boston Bruins for the Stanley Cup – a playoff run that has given his family reason to come together to watch his games at an emotionally difficult time, and none of it would’ve happened had Maroon not gone home.

”If it wasn’t for this, I said, I’d probably be home and I’d use any kind of excuse not to come,” aunt Jan Phegley said from the basement of brother Rob Ferrera’s house. ”But my brother keeps calling me and he doesn’t give me any excuse to stay away. And when I get here I’m OK. And (Patrick’s brother) Justin goes: ‘Yeah, Aunt Jan, don’t you think we would be home? But we’re here.’ It’s just made such a big difference in everybody’s life.”

No one more so than Anthony, the 10-year-old center of the family who perhaps like his father growing up doesn’t realize how good of a hockey player he could be. Last July, Patrick was watching his son play at the same Oakville roller hockey rink he played in as a kid the night he had to decide where to sign.

His dad, Phil Maroon, wasn’t sure Patrick should take on the pressure of playing in St. Louis and suggested he take the extra security from San Jose because he’s now in his 30s. He even flipped a coin: heads for the Blues, tails for the Sharks. It came up tails.

”He goes, ‘OK, I’m going to sign with them,”’ Phil said. ”About two hours later, he calls me up and says, ‘Dad, I signed with the Blues.”’

What changed in those two hours? He was with Anthony and fiancee Francesca.

”It’s always been Anthony,” Phil said. ”That was the bottom line. That’s what it came down to.”

New Jersey offered more than $3 million because general manager Ray Shero told Maroon he deserved it. Shero has gotten to know the family well over the years from the world championships and then trading for Maroon at the 2018 deadline and understands perfectly why he left so much money on the table.

”He did it for all the right reasons,” Shero said. ”You can’t script this any better.”

Maroon grew up in Oakville outside St. Louis, once carved out a penalty box in the wall of his parents’ furnished basement for full-contact games with his friends and played minor and high school hockey there. Now there are signs all over Telegraph Road like the one at Dierbergs Market that reads, ”Congrats Oakville Big Rig Pat Maroon.”

”We had that in the back of our mind, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be neat if he was able to go all the way, and who knows what team he would be on?” said Mick O’Halloran of the Oakville Hockey Club that Maroon played two seasons with as a high school freshman and sophomore. ”It was meant to be for him to skate here at this time.”

This isn’t the first time hockey brought Maroon home. He played for now-Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper with the North American Hockey League’s Texarkana Bandits in 2005-06 and the team moved to St. Louis the next season. Maroon had 95 points, was league MVP and led the St. Louis Bandits to the national championship – and is now looking to do that again with another hometown team and his son watching.

”He always missed being away from his boy,” Cooper said. ”He wanted to be close to him and just the way it’s all worked out, it’s been awesome.”

It wasn’t always awesome. Phil said Patrick hit a low point in December when his game wasn’t right and the Blues were in the aftermath of a coaching change and the losses piling up. New teammate Ryan O'Reilly saw what Maroon was going through and set him up with his dad, Brian, a sports psychologist, for a chat around the holidays that got him on track mentally.

Phil believes that’s when everything turned around for his youngest son, who appreciated the assistance.

”Ryan, he’s one of my best friends on the team and he was just looking out for me, looking to see if I needed help,” Maroon said Monday. ”His dad was an outlet and his dad pulled me aside, so we just had a little chat. Big Bri does some really good things. He’s really good at what he does. He just brought some positivity back in my life and some things that I needed and things that were missing in my game that he believed in.”

O’Reilly doesn’t know what his dad said to help Maroon, but he sure noticed the difference.

”You kind of saw that shift and watched him get back and find his game again and be a dominant force,” O’Reilly said. ”A lot of times thinking can get in the way of a performance. And when you can get rid of that and be as present as possible like you kind of see from Pat how your kind of game unfolds and gets back to where you want it.”

The Blues went from last place in the NHL on the morning of Jan. 3 to the playoffs. But the more important developments came with Anthony’s team.

Patrick and Anthony got to play in the Meramec Sharks’ annual father-son game for the first time. That experience reminded Patti of the skills competition in Edmonton where she saw her youngest son and her grandson standing on the blue line in matching Maroon Oilers jerseys, and she and Phil then got to watch them skate on the same ice with the same youth team Patrick also played for as a kid.

”It was just surreal,” Patti said.

Less than a month later came the moment that sister Jen Guetschow said shattered their family’s world. Grandfather Ernest Ferrara died at age 94 from complications following leg surgery.

It was the day the Blues were leaving for Winnipeg to start the playoffs against the Jets. The team held the plane so Maroon could say goodbye to the grandfather, something that might not have been possible if he had signed anywhere else.

”We were all standing around crying,” Patti recalled. ”He had to leave, so he’s bending down and he’s hugging and kissing my dead dad and he’s going: ‘Grandpa, I love you. I love you. I’m gonna win the Stanley Cup for you.”’

Grandpa Ernie had called that last summer after Maroon signed with the Blues. He’d always send video messages to Patrick asking for goals or congratulating him, and one that ends with a puff from his cigar is still saved on Jen’s phone.

”Welcome home Patrick and Francesca,” Ernie said, stogie in hand. ”I’m so happy that you’re gonna be playing next door here. I love you, and the Blues are waiting for ya. They’re already predicting they’re gonna win.”

Maroon assisted on Tyler Bozak‘s Game 1-winning goal against Winnipeg the next day. Uncle Rob Fererra texts Patrick the night before a game and usually tells him, ”Don’t forget, dream of big assists, big goals, big hits, big plays.”

The night before Game 7 against Dallas, he told him, ”Now go dream of big goals” and forget about assists. Wearing No. 7, Maroon scored to win Game 7 on May 7 directly in front of family members sitting in row 7 of section 107 and only minutes after Jen, husband Paul and Rob kissed the prayer card from Ernie’s funeral.

Patti Maroon didn’t even see the goal because fans were standing in front of her. Son Philipp ran to tell her Patrick had scored, and it was bedlam in the best possible way.

”Everybody in my family was crying,” Patti said. ”I just felt like they’re really going to win the Stanley Cup. Like, this is for real now.”

Maroon looked around at Stanley Cup Final media day and it all hit him: the decision to take less money and a shorter deal to play for the Blues, the tumultuous season and now the chance to lift the Cup.

”Well, it’s worth it now, right?” Maroon said. ”Money doesn’t solve problems in the world anymore. It doesn’t really bring you happiness. Living out your dream and being home and being with family and being with a team in that locker room and have those guys fight, sweat and be where we’re at right now, that means more to me.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Will coaching experience matter in Western Conference Final?

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Experience.

Does it matter or is it overrated?

That’s the question many general managers ask themselves whenever they have a head coaching vacancy to fill. Some teams want a fresh face with a new approach, while some others are more than happy to get a savvy veteran that’s been there, done that. This year’s Western Conference Final features one of each.

Sharks bench boss Pete DeBoer is three years younger than Blues interim coach Craig Berube, but experience is clearly on his side. DeBoer, 50, has been a head coach in the NHL since 2008-09 and he’s been behind the bench for three three different organizations (Florida and New Jersey).

In his 11 NHL seasons, DeBoer has made it to the Stanley Cup Final twice. Unfortunately for him, he came up empty on both occasions, as the Devils lost to the Kings in 2012 while his Sharks team lost to the Penguins in 2016. There’s no denying that he has learned a lesson or two from those long postseason runs. There’s no substitute for learning on the biggest stage and under the brightest lights. You can’t simulate that. But how much does that really matter in a head-to-head matchup between two franchises that have been waiting a long time to win a Stanley Cup?

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Before taking over for Mike Yeo earlier this season, Berube had two seasons of NHL head coaching experience, as he coached the Flyers in 2013-14 and 2014-15. The 53-year-old was bounced in the first round of the playoffs in his first year and he failed to make the postseason in year two. He only won his first series as a head coach when the Blues knocked the Winnipeg Jets out of the first round last month.

And looking back on that series, Berube’s limited experience didn’t even come close to what Jets head coach Paul Maurice had under his belt. In fact, if you look at the eight coaches who made it to the second round of the playoffs in 2019, you’ll notice that five of them been behind an NHL bench for three full seasons or fewer. Boston’s Bruce Cassidy, Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour, Dallas’ Jim Montgomery, Colorado’s Jared Bednar, and Berube all fit in to that category. Cassidy is the leader in the clubhouse with 301 games of experience, but many of those came in the early 2000s when he was with the Washington Capitals.

Don’t get it twisted, there will always be room for experienced head coaches. The Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers both decided to hire veteran head coaches this year. Proven commodities will always have appeal in professional sports, but many teams are clearly willing to go with new blood.

So how much of an advantage does DeBoer have over Berube based on his experience? It’s hard to say. There’s no quantitative way to measure how many more goals the Sharks will score because of experience. Are the Sharks in the Western Conference Final because their coach is experienced? Probably not. But did experience help the Sharks remain calm when they were down by three goals in Game 7 of their first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights? Yeah, probably.

Let’s not sell the Blues’ young staff short, either. Berube and assistants Mike Van Ryn and Steve Ott don’t have as much coaching experience, but they also showed an ability to keep their team calm in a pressure situation. In Game 7 against Dallas, the Blues dominated the entire game. The limited Dallas to just one shot in the second period, but they still had to go two overtimes deep to beat them. But they remained composed and they kept pushing until Pat Maroon finally won them the game.

It’s possible that experience behind the bench will give the Sharks an edge in certain aspects of the game, but will it be the difference between them advancing and going home early? That seems very unlikely.

As usual, there’s a very good chance that the players on the ice will determine who wins and who loses. And that’s the way it should be!

MORE:
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Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Goalie Binnington a steady rookie rock as Blues advance

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Jordan Binnington still doesn’t look nervous.

Sure, the standout rookie goalie for the St. Louis Blues admitted he got a little tired late in the double-overtime win over Dallas in Game 7. But he said he is ready to keep his strong play going as St. Louis advanced the Western Conference final for the first time since 2016.

”I was pretty happy to see that puck go in, and in front of a home crowd, the atmosphere was crazy,” Binnington said. ”It was a fun experience.”

The Blues will play the San Jose Sharks, 3-2 winner over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 on Wednesday night.

The Blues are making their fourth conference finals appearance since 1970. They can thank Binnington for doing his part.

The 25-year-old Canadian was cool and composed – and maybe a bit weary – following Pat Maroon‘s winner at 5:50 of the second overtime Tuesday night. There was no overly demonstrative celebration. He calmly skated to his teammates as is if the Blues had wrapped up a ho-hum, regular-season game in October.

It’s been this way since Binnington was called up from the AHL on Jan. 5.

In the first round, Winnipeg fans tried to throw Binnington off his game by chanting, ”You look nervous.” After helping lead the Blues to a momentum-shifting win in Game 5 at Winnipeg, reporters asked him about the chant to which he simply replied, ”Did I look nervous?”

Binnington, a Calder Trophy finalist, continued his stellar play against the Stars and Ben Bishop, a Vezina Trophy finalist.

”Big time, big time saves, at key moments,” Blues coach Craig Berube said about Binnington. ”That’s a credit to him. When you’re sitting there and watching it all, we’re getting a lot of action at the other end, things happen and they come down and get an opportunity, he was there to make a big save for us.”

Binnington’s arrival helped turn the Blues around.

St. Louis was last in the league in points in January. Behind Binnington, the team went on a franchise-record, 11-game winning streak from January into February.

Binnington wound up 24-5-1 in the regular season and is 8-5 in the postseason, where his save percentage is a pedestrian .915 but his goals-against average is just 2.39 behind a stingy defense.

He hasn’t lost more than two games in a row all season.

”There were a couple moments where you just took a second and realized where you were,” Binnington said. ”It’s pretty special. I’m happy to be part of it and I’m happy we got the win in front of the home crowd here.”

The Blues run is historic. They are one of only seven teams to make the postseason after being last in the league in points on Jan. 3. They are the only team to win a playoff series after climbing out of that hole.

Now they are halfway to the first Stanley Cup in the franchise’s 52-year history.

”A lot of people doubted us, but I’ll tell you what, and I really do mean this, I’m really proud of this group more and more every single day,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. ”You’re around this group of guys and a lot of people say we have a close room, and we do because that’s a resilient effort from where we were in December to get to where we are now. Sometimes you’ve just got to look back and be proud of the effort. It’s been a long road, but we just keep on pushing and it’s taken everybody right now, but we’re finding a way.”

That resiliency was tested in Game 7.

Bishop, who grew up in St. Louis and was originally drafted by the Blues, threatened to steal the game and the series for Dallas. He made 52 saves, thwarting chance after chance.

Binnington was not tested nearly as much, but he stepped up in overtime, including a sprawling save on a wrap-around attempt that was dangerously close the goal line.

”They had a couple chances in overtime and I just tried to do my job and try to make the saves and give the team a chance to win,” Binnington said. ”Everyone else took care of their job and got the win, so it was good.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Binnington helps Blues narrowly defeat Jets in his postseason debut

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The Winnipeg Jets tested Blues rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. Mark Scheifele ran into him out of the gate and Patrik Laine beat him with a huge goal early in the first period, but Binnington didn’t unravel in his postseason debut. He kept the Blues in the contest until they could battle back in the third period to earn a 2-1 victory over Winnipeg in Game 1.

“Yeah, (Binnington) did a great job … early on, with the Scheifele thing … but that’s part of the playoffs and he handled it well, and he played a hell of a game,” Blues coach Craig Berube said.

Binnington has been the story of the Blues’ campaign thus far. He didn’t start the season in the NHL, but with St. Louis struggling mightily and the Blues’ goaltending not living up to expectations, Chad Johnson was put on waivers in December. With the opening that created, it wasn’t long until Binnington became the spark St. Louis needed, guiding the Blues into the playoffs with a 24-5-1 record, 1.89 GAA, and .927 save percentage in 32 games.

It wasn’t all Binnington though. This was a hard fought battle against two teams that looked even. The third period was certainly St. Louis’ though. The Jets’ 1-0 lead was finally eliminated at 4:05 of the third period when David Perron scored just his fifth goal in 58 career playoff games. Tyler Bozak, who like Perron was signed as a UFA over the summer, scored the winner with just 2:05 left. Pat Maroon, yet another summer addition, deserves a lot of credit for carrying the puck and setting up Bozak on the deciding goal.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That gave the Jets plenty of time to have one more sustained shot at Binnington, but nothing got by him with the pressure on.

St. Louis was one of the hottest teams in the league coming into the playoffs. The Blues went 28-8-5 in the second half, which isn’t far behind the dominate Tampa Bay Lightning’s 30-9-2 record in their final 41 games. That strong finish made up for St. Louis’ rocky start and resulted in St. Louis tying Winnipeg in terms of regular season points at 99.

Even if Game 1 was in Winnipeg by virtue of the tiebreaker, St. Louis can hardly be classified as the underdog and this win isn’t a true upset. It was a close game between two evenly matched squads in a series that’s far from decided.

Blues-Jets Game 2 from Bell MTS Place will be Friday night at 9:30 p.m. ET on CNBC

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.