Patrick Maroon

Blues finally deliver Stanley Cup to St. Louis

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BOSTON — It started in September, ended in June. The journey of the St. Louis Blues’ 2018-19 NHL season took many twists and turns, but ultimately ended the way they envisioned it — as Stanley Cup champions.

Every champion has a story, and the Blues are no different. Theirs is one of a remarkable turnaround, a goaltender who played himself into a star, the local boy who came home to deliver a championship, a coach who made the most out of a second chance, and a veteran defenseman who found success of many levels of hockey, except the NHL. Then you had Laila, “Gloria,” Jon Hamm and “Pam,” and retired anthem singer Charles Glenn.

It was a collective of characters who further enriched the Blues’ road to success. And now they finally have the spotlight in a city that needed a boost.

“It’s a city of champions,” said native St. Louisan Patrick Maroon. “[The St. Louis] Cardinals had something special going. Now the Blues have something special going.”

[RELATED: Blues win first Stanley Cup]

The St. Louis fan base has waited 52 years to celebrate a Stanley Cup title. They’ve watched as the Cardinals won 11 World Series titles and the Rams won Super Bowl XXIV and then leave for Los Angeles 16 years later. For decades they endured as the Blues did well enough to put together a 25-season streak of making the playoffs, only to fall short of winning the championship each and every time. They’ve had to watch Bobby Orr fly through the air hundreds of thousands of as a reminder of their third straight Cup Final defeat in 1970.

But now the memories will be ones of their own. The goals, the saves, the moments that encompass this season which could have gone south, but was resurrected January following changes behind the bench and in the crease.

When the championship DVD is released this summer, there will be plenty of stories to tell about the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues. It was a rollercoaster of a season, but now that the ride is finally over, the Blues can say they are champions. And now there will finally be a parade in St. Louis where the Blues are the champions.

“I can’t wait,” said Maroon. “Probably millions of people. I can’t wait to celebrate with our fans, they deserve more than anyone.”

MORE BLUES STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
Jay Bouwmeester finally gets his Stanley Cup
Blues fan Laila Anderson gets moment with Stanley Cup
Ryan O’Reilly wins Conn Smythe Trophy
Berube helped Blues find identity after early-season struggle
Blues latest team erased from Stanley Cup drought list

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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, Bruins trying to ‘live in the moment’ before Game 7

BOSTON — As much as the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues want to make Game 7 like any other game, it’s impossible. They can go through their same gameday preparations, but in their minds they know this is the last one of the season and only one team will be celebrating on the ice Wednesday night at TD Garden with the Stanley Cup (8 p.m. ET; NBC; live stream).

Charlie McAvoy planned to go about his day as usual. Media, lunch, nap, get to the rink and go. His attempt at a good night’s rest on Tuesday? Well, that was a bit difficult.

“I had a little butterflies last night trying to go to sleep, just thinking about where we are and how fortunate I am to be in this position,” the Bruins defenseman said. “We just have to remember it’s just another hockey game. The stakes are what they are. We just have to enjoy it and have fun and realize how lucky I am and fortunate to be in this situation, a situation not many people get to be in. Just going to go out there give it everything I have. Just keep that attitude that it’s just another game. Nothing changes. Still the same the puck, still 5-on-5 and all that.”

Patrick Maroon soaked in the Blues’ morning skate, realizing it was the last one of the season — a season that’s featured plenty of ups and downs. The hours before puck drop will drag on and the anticipation for puck drop for everyone involved will be an an all-time high. It’s been two long off-days since Game 6 Sunday night — plenty of time for the nerves to hit you.

“You’d be lying if there wasn’t nerves on both teams,” said Maroon. “I mean, I guess both teams will have nerves during this time. It’s a big moment for everyone, the biggest stage and Game 7. But I think once you’re out there and you feel the puck a little bit on your warmups and first shift, all that goes away and you’re just kind of enjoying the moment.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Blues and Bruins have reached Game 7 via very different paths. The Bruins have been consistently in the playoff picture all season, while the Blues rode a second half surge that’s brought them on the cusp of the franchise’s first championship.

A win tonight and the story of each team’s season changes dramatically. But for the players and the coaches, that’s a discussion for later on. They can’t let themselves think about how tonight could end and what their summers will be like following one more victory.

“I think if you think that it could be toxic,” said McAvoy. “You’ve got to live in the moment. Dreaming is fine and it’s all good, but it’s fiction until it’s reality.”

Bruce Cassidy agrees with that. He got a second chance to become an NHL head coach 14 years after a disastrous stint in Washington. His Bruins teams have been consistent at winning since he replaced Claude Julien in 2017, but he isn’t thinking about hero status if he’s able to deliver another Stanley Cup to the city.

“I just want my name on the damn Cup. That’s what I want,” he said. “And then we can talk about it however you want.”

MORE BLUES-BRUINS COVERAGE:
• Three keys for Game 7
• It is all on line for Blues-Bruins 
• Which Blues, Bruins player will get Stanley Cup handoff?
• Conn Smythe watch
• Stanley Cup roundtable discussion

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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.

Why the Blues get better late in every series

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If we have learned anything about the St. Louis Blues through the first three full rounds of the playoffs it’s that they may just now be reaching the point in the Stanley Cup Final where they really start to find their game.

The Blues enter Game 5 against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; Live Stream) tied at two games apiece thanks to their big Game 4 win on Monday night. Thursday’s game is obviously a pivotal one because it’s going to bring one of these teams to within one win of a championship.

All postseason the Blues have excelled in this exact position and have consistently gotten stronger in every series they have played.

So far they are 6-1 in Games 5 through 7 of each series, with the only loss in those games being a 2-1 defeat in Game 5 to the Dallas Stars in a game where the Blues still carried most of the play.

It is not just that they have won almost all of these late series games, it is that they have legitimately played better. It is a near perfect confluence of process and results.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

For example, the table below shows the Blues’ 5-on-5 shot attempt (CF%), scoring chance (SC%), high-danger scoring chances (HDSC%) and goal differentials for Games 1-4 in each series versus their performance in Games 5-7 in each series.  There is obviously a pretty drastic difference in the two performances.

One argument for this could centered around the Blues’ style of play where they try to wear teams down over the course of a series. They do have some bigger forwards and a bigger roster and can play a grinding game with an aggressive forecheck.

“Heavy hockey” if you wanted to call it that.

“We just try to play a grinding style of hockey,” said center Brayden Schenn. “It’s not fancy. It’s not pretty. But when we’re chipping pucks and we’re forechecking and we have a good F3 and we’re back checking hard, and it allows the D to have good gaps. We feel it’s a pretty good recipe and hopefully we can keep that going and be effective.”

Team captain and top defender Alex Pietrangelo echoed that same sentiment.

“I think we can see it throughout games and throughout series,” he said. “It’s tough minutes to play against our forward lines when they’re playing the way they can. Not necessarily anything to look for, you can see the momentum we create by our line changes in the offensive zone, we’re just using all four lines. If I was a defenseman, that would be tough to defend against.”

There is always a common theme and talking point whenever a team with size goes far in the playoffs where the conventional wisdom is that they wear teams down. But this is the NHL, it is still at its core a contact and collision sport where every game is going to have its share of physical play and hits. Everyone gets worn down to a degree the deeper they go in a series and the playoffs. Is an extra 10-15 hits per game spread out throughout the roster really going to speed that up? The argument against the mindset is that some of the most successful teams of the salary cap era (Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, the 2006-2009 Detroit Red Wings, and even the Tampa Bay Lightning team that went to three of the past five Eastern Conference Finals) did it with rosters that weren’t big or overly physical (especially at forward). Old school hockey folks love to romanticize the physical aspect of the game and the blood and guts reputation of playoff hockey. But the most consistently successful teams of this era didn’t really fit that mold. At all.

There is also this: simply writing it off as the Blues winning a battle of attrition every series and advancing because they are bigger and stronger and overpowering teams does a disservice to their coaching staff and the talent they have on their roster, all of which are excellent. Especially when trying to overpower the Bruins physically may have gotten them into some trouble earlier in the series when it came to their discipline.

From the moment Craig Berube took over behind the bench the team’s style changed. It used a more aggressive forecheck, they opened up more offensively, they immediately become better defensively in all phases.

The thing about playoff hockey is that coaching can tend to make more of a difference that it sometimes does in the regular season as teams spend more time game-planning for opponents and trying to find and exploit their weaknesses.

There is only so much advance game-planning you can do for one game out of 82 in the regular season when you usually only have 24-48 hours to prepare for a team after playing a completely different team with a completely different style. You are obviously doing some prep work, but not anywhere near as in-depth or detailed as you do in the playoffs.

In a best-of-seven series where you play the same team, with the same personnel, with the same playing style every night you are going to be more in tune with what they are trying to do and better able to find what they can do. And perhaps even more importantly, what they can’t do.

“I think we finally realize that we have to get to our game,” said forward Patrick Maroon. “When we get to our game, we’re a good hockey team. It takes us some time, I guess. Figure out how they play, how we need to play, what we need to do. How we can focus on it every shift, every night.”

“Yeah, I think it’s pretty common,” said Schenn when asked if there is a feeling out process the team has gone through early in each series.

“You kinda see what the team is gonna give you, how they’re gonna play, what adjustments they’re gonna make. I’m sure Boston’s gonna make some adjustments as well and so are we.”

The Blues are one of the bigger teams in the NHL and they do play what can probably be described as a “grinding” style. Even their biggest superstar, Vladimir Tarasenko, is such a force with the puck because of his strength and how difficult he is to knock over. They will play physical and they will hit your defense on the forecheck. But they also have a lot of talent throughout their roster and a coaching staff that has consistently done a great job adjusting all season.

Without the latter points, none of the former would matter or be much of a factor.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs Thursday on NBC at 8 p.m. ET (stream here).

MORE BLUES-BRUINS GAME 5:
Bruins’ Chara to be game-time decision
Report: Chara has broken jaw
Blues vs. Bruins: Three keys to Game 5
The Wraparound: Bruins need more, especially from second line
Looking at Bruins’ potential defensive options

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.

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

Blues embrace ’80s hit ‘Gloria’ as post-win anthem

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You may have heard parts of a 1980s tune blaring in the background after each of the St. Louis Blues’ three playoff home wins or while they were celebrating a victory in the dressing room this postseason.

The song — “Gloria” by the late Laura Branigan — has become the team’s post-win anthem since February as they were in the midst of a season turnaround. That turnaround continued Tuesday night as Patrick Maroon’s double overtime goal knocked out the Dallas Stars in Game 7 and sent the Blues to the Western Conference Final.

St. Louis radio station Y98 promised to play “Gloria” for 24 consecutive hours if the Blues eliminated the Stars. Well, here we are as the ’80s hit started playing in the wee hours Wednesday morning.

The story of how “Gloria” became attached to the Blues goes back to early January and NFL Wild Card weekend as the Philadelphia Eagles played. With the team in town to the play the Flyers, Robert Bortuzzo, Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri, Jaden Schwartz, and Alexander Steen got together at a local bar to watch the game while a DJ played during commercial breaks.

“They played this song ‘Gloria’ a couple of times, and this one guy looked at the DJ and said ‘keep playing Gloria!’, so they kept playing it,” Edmundson told the Blues website in February. “Everyone would get up and start singing and dancing. We just sat back and watched it happen. Right there we decided we should play the song after our wins. We won the next game, we got a shutout, so we just kept on playing it.”

That next game just happened to be Jordan Binnington‘s first NHL start, which was a 3-0 shutout of the Flyers.

Branigan’s hit tune actually replaced Dion’s “Runaround Sue” as the team’s post-win song. Both gave off a good vibe and were perfect for the situation inside a happy dressing room.

“I want to see the Blues in the Stanley Cup — that’s the ultimate,” said Kathy Golik, who runs Other Half Entertainment and managed Branigan, and is now her legacy manager, to Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic. “But however far they go, I support them. This is just great, and I hope next season they continue to use the song because I think it’s brought them luck, and it’s something that’s become a really big thing.”

It’s been one happy season so far for the Blues, and now they’re four more wins from playing for the Stanley Cup. We likely haven’t heard the last of “Gloria.”

MORE: Maroon’s double OT goal brings son to tears

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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.