2019 Stanley Cup Final

Blues’ recipe for success hasn’t changed in quest for Cup repeat

ST. LOUIS — There was one thing Craig Berube wanted to focus on during his first training camp leading the Blues. With his players going deep into June en route to winning the Stanley Cup, the head coach wanted to keep his practices short. After playing 108 games last season, he was aware of the effects of two extra months of hockey.

Instead of longer skates to shake out the summer rust, Berube and his staff kept them short, fast and intense.

Berube also did not place any special attention on hammering home one particular message: avoiding a Stanley Cup hangover. A short off-season that featured plenty of celebrating the franchise’s first championship wasn’t one of his major concerns.

“I don’t think we went into camp with that focus,” Berube told NBC Sports. “We went into camp with getting going again and getting the skating and working. I thought our guys came in great shape and I thought we had really good practices in training camp.”

Roster consistency — Patrick Maroon was the only face gone from the Cup-winning team when camp opened — was also a key that helped drive the Blues off to a strong start to the 2019-20 season. (Joel Edmundson exited week later in a trade that brought Justin Faulk to St. Louis.)

The players walked into that dressing room and saw the same faces that were on the ice that Gloria-ous night in Boston. The way the Blues put a forgettable first few months of last season behind them and started a run in January that ended with a title showed how the chemistry finally came together. Keeping the roster pretty much intact ensured little need to get across an understanding of what made them successful.

“That helps a lot. That really helps us get to our identity,” said forward Ryan O’Reilly. “We kind of know what our best game looks like. We know as individuals what guys can do. It’s easy to have the communication and talk to each other and make the adjustments when we need to and lean on each other in certain ways at those crucial times.”

The Blues entered the NHL All-Star Break with 30 wins in 49 games and the second-best record by points percentage (.643) in the league. Their biggest skid happened right off the bat with losses in five of their first eight game of the season — three of which came in overtime or the shootout. That was followed by a stretch of nine wins in 10 games, setting them on the right course to a first half of dominance in the Western Conference. Not to mention the success has come without the services of Vladimir Tarasenko, who played only 10 games and won’t return until April.

Stanley Cup champions can fall prey to a hangover as they begin their defense, but that didn’t hit the Blues for too long. The 29 points earned in their first 20 games is the third-best start for any defending champion since 2006-07. Only the 2008-09 Red Wings (32 points) and 2013-14 Blackhawks (29 points) had better starts.

Defending Stanley Cup champions in their first 20 games since 2006-07 NHL season.

“Over that whole process of last year, of starting with the low point and building our way back up, finding our identity, getting in the playoffs, keep building from there, we really found something in ourselves that we kind of knew how to turn on when we needed to,” said O’Reilly. “That carried over into this year where we know it’s not going to be the same thing. We’re going to have to do this thing a different way. It’s going to be tough because teams are gunning for us, but we just have to find a way to always keep reinventing ourselves — get to our identity, playing hard, build our game from there. We just really paid attention to the details when we needed to.”

The Blues have gone from being the hunter to the hunted now. Every team wants to beat the defending champs, especially their Central Division rivals who are looking to make up ground in the playoff race. Berube’s hammered home the fact that they have targets on their backs and complacency is not an option. They don’t want to waste such a good first half and they understand there’s still a lot of hockey left to play.

“We haven’t had any easy games. We really haven’t,” said Berube, who noted he’s not thinking beyond the regular season at all. “There’s been tough games, no matter who we play, it always a hard game. I think our guys have bought into that and they’re understanding that more and more as it goes along. We’ve got a long way to go yet, we’ve got a lot of hockey to play and we’re going to have to play good hockey. Everybody’s going to be fighting now. Everybody’s going to be dialed in, fighting for a playoff spot, positioning, all that. All these games coming down the stretch are going to be tough.”

The messages Berube delivers every day continue working. He took over a team in Nov. 2018 that was lacking confidence, something he pointed out in his opening press conference. Slowly the turn around began and the players bought in big time. It paid off, as we know, so it’s no surprise that the success has continued into this season. The plan was put in place long ago and no one has deviated it from it. That’s why the Blues are a serious threat to repeat.

“What worked for him last year works for him this year,” said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo. “That’s been pretty much the recipe for our entire group. We found something that works from the coaching staff all the way down and we’ve stuck with it.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blues superfan Laila Anderson enjoying life one year after bone marrow transplant

If you want to feel inspired (and, yeah, probably cry), then the video above can do the trick. It does a fantastic job of summarizing — and updating — the story of St. Louis Blues fan Laila Anderson as she battles the rare immune disease HLH.

Truly, it’s been a remarkable year since Anderson received a bone marrow transplant from Kenton Felmlee, whom she would eventually meet.

One moment that stood out because it’s another nice recent development: Anderson holding a sign indicating that All-Star week will represent a milestone: one year since that “golden ticket” transplant. Please excuse the quality, as it is a screen that just begs to be shared.

Laila Anderson one year

Pretty great.

Anderson experienced quite a year:

During that clip, Anderson’s organ donor pointed out his own family struggles with disease, which inspired him to become a donor. As touching as Anderson’s personal story is, it could be an even greater good if it helps raise awareness, and thus save lives.

The National Marrow Program set up a specific spot to promote awareness: beamatch.org/laila. Anderson designed a shirt, with all proceeds benefiting Be the Match:

Laila Anderson be the match

Maybe even more good can come from an already heartwarming story?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Binnington, Blues show how far you can come in one year

Binnington Blues Stanley Cup
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The year 2020 remains brand-spanking new, even if world events made the first week feel much longer. With the year’s new-car smell still wafting in the air, it’s an opportunity to reflect on how much can change in 12 months. St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington can attest to how someone’s life can pull a 180 in 365 days (or, in 2020, 366).

While Binnington made his first NHL start on Jan. 7, 2019, Binnington told The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford (sub required) that it also felt, to him, like one of his last opportunities to prove himself.

It sounds like Binnington arrived with the sort of motivation that would inspire you to punch large slabs of meat and run laps on the beach.

(Aside: Binnington probably means “Eye of the Tiger,” yet that unintentionally open-ended comment actually points to the glut of outstanding inspirational, montage-worthy tunes in “Rocky” movies. There’s the just-as-rad theme, cheesier option “Hearts on Fire,” and even the remote possibility that Binnington was merely listening to Rocky mutter various lines. Lots of possibilities, honestly.)

Binnington starts hot, rarely slows down for Blues

Binnington began his underdog story with quite the haymaker. He pitched a 25-save shutout in that first NHL start after only seeing paltry relief appearances before.

Rather than being a fluke victory, that debut shutout portended big things for Binnington and the Blues. The team caught fire, and while Binnington wasn’t the only key, he saved their season.

Binnington managed an astounding 24 wins in just 30 games played, generating a fantastic .927 save percentage during a rookie season that helped him finish second in the Calder voting. Binnington could’ve hung his hat on that great regular season, alone.

Yet, well … you probably know what happened.

While Binnington struggled at times during the postseason (.914 save percentage during that 26-game run), he frequently earned praise for being “unflappable.” You’d expect “steady as a rock” from a veteran, not a goalie who wondered where his career was heading as 2019 began.

Binnington delivered in the clutch, in particular, cementing that thought with a stellar championship-winning performance in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Binnington, Blues putting out a strong sequel so far

Marking Jan. 2, 2019 as a line in the sand makes a lot of sense for Blues historians — and maybe other teams firing their coaches mid-season. After all, that’s when the Blues ranked last in the NHL, only to turn around their 2018-19 season and win the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup.

That Binnington start on Jan. 7, 2019 works well, too, though.

Either way, it’s truly remarkable to see how much Binnington’s life changed, and how he skyrocketed up the ranks of top goalies. Consider a few facts:

  • Binnington’s 43 wins (43-12-5 record) leads all goalies since he made that first start. His .923 save percentage would hover around the top 10 during that time, too, if you exclude goalies who barely played.
  • Fascinatingly, a resurgent Jake Allen now ties Binnington’s .923 during that time (Allen in 28 games, Binnington in 60). The two can conceivably push each other to help boost the Blues overall.
  • The Blues topped all NHL teams for the calendar year of 2019 with 56 wins and 123 standings points. (Again, Binnington won 43 of those 56.)
  • Binnington went from a goalie bouncing around various levels of hockey to a player who received a two-year, $8.8 million contract. And you could make a sound argument the Blues got a bit of a bargain.
  • Yes, Binnington tapered off a bit compared to last season’s lofty hot streak. He still seems like a viable starter, however, with a solid .914 save percentage, and 7.26 Goals Saved Against Average that is more than respectable.
  • Binnington played a large role in the resurgence of “Gloria.”

Binnington really stacked his resume so far, huh? Now the key is to avoid making sequels on the level of “Rocky V.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Holiday light display honors Blues’ Stanley Cup title, plays ‘Gloria’

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There’s always one house on the block, right? As soon as dessert finishes at Thanksgiving the preparations begin for that season’s holiday lights — some modest, others very enthusiastic and offering a big display which attracts plenty of visitors.

Over in O’Fallon, Missouri, you’ll find a house that has decided to take decorating for the holidays in a unique direction.

In honor of the Blues winning the 2019 Stanley Cup, Bob Galik has synced up his light display show to honor them set to the music of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and the team’s anthem last season, Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.”

Behold!

Galik told the Blues website that the display features over 40,000 lights and took more than 100 hours to program and sync with the audio.

As for the cost? “Let’s just say that it’s not a cheap hobby,” he said.

Galik has been creating the unique holiday display since 2006 and said he expects about 5,000 people to stop by this season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to see the show that runs nightly.

Visitors are encouraged to donate to help fund Our Lady’s Inn, a shelter for expectant and new mothers. All money raised helps purchase diapers and baby wipes.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Pastrnak keeps rolling as Bruins top Blues in Stanley Cup Final rematch

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It can not possibly make up for what happened on the TD Garden Ice back in June, but the Boston Bruins were at least able to get some satisfaction against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night with a 3-0 shutout win over the defending Stanley Cup champions in what was their first meeting since Game 7.

The two big stars of the games for the Bruins were — as they have been all season — winger David Pastrnak and starting goalie Tuukka Rask.

Rask turned aside all 26 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season. The Bruins have now earned 11 out of a possible 12 points in the games he has started as he continues his incredible start and pushes his save percentage to an almost unbelievable .951 mark.

But even when your goalie is stopping almost every shot you still need somebody to score some goals if you want to win, and right now nobody is doing that better than Pastrnak.

He opened the scoring on the power play on Saturday night by one-timing a slap shot from the left circle that beat Blues goalie Jordan Binnington for his 11th goal of the season. That goal extends his current goal-scoring streak to five consecutive games and gives him at least one goal in seven of his past eight.

How good is his start? This is just the 29th time since the 1979-80 season that a player has scored at least 11 goals through their team’s first 10 games, while it is just the fifth time since 1993 (the other four: Scott Young 2000, Ilya Kovalchuk in 2003, Alexander Steen in 2013, and Nikita Kucherov in 2018). Even taking into account the fact that his shooting percentage is eventually going to dip well below the 30 percent mark it is currently at this season he should still have a fighting chance to hit the 50-goal mark this season and challenge for the league lead.

With 11 goals and 18 total points he has now figured into the scoring on 62 percent of the Bruins’ goals this season.

Anders Bjork and Brandon Carlo also added goals for the Bruins on Saturday to help them improve to 7-1-2 on the season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.