MARXKORS: History will be made

Cue the music. Roll the tape.

February 20, 2019 - 11:32 am
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In 2011, the NHL was smack-dab in the middle of its “History Will Be Made” ad campaign for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The commercials followed the same formula: play a clipped, split-second highlight of a historic moment—Ray Bourque lifting the Cup, Bobby Orr flying through the air, Gretzky being Great, Mario being Super— immediately stop the highlight, and reverse the sequence of events leading up to that iconic moment in dramatic slow-motion.

A dreamy, staccato piano score accompanied each clip, as did a rhetorical question intended to blow the minds of hockey fans across North America: What if there was no Greatness? What if Bourque didn’t believe in one more year?

On Tuesday night at Enterprise Center, the Blues made a little history of their own, notching a franchise-record 11th straight victory when they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 3-2 overtime thriller.

So, just for fun, let’s toss this moment into the NHL’s “History Will Be Made” basket. Where do we start the highlight reel? O’Reilly’s game-winning goal in overtime? Binnington’s game-saving stop on superstar Auston Matthews?

Or do we go back further than that?

On February 18, 2011, almost eight years to the day that the St. Louis Blues won their 11th-straight game, the team made a move just before the trade deadline, sending Eric Brewer to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Brock Beukeboom and a third-round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

The Blues missed the playoffs that year. The Lightning lost in the Eastern Conference Final. And for eight years, basically no one talked about the goalie the Blues selected 88th overall as part of the Brewer trade, Jordan Binnington.

Cue the music. Roll the tape.

What if Brewer didn’t waive his no-trade clause?

Well, Binnington wouldn’t have set the record for most consecutive victories for a Blues rookie goaltender. He wouldn’t have become only the seventh goalie in NHL history to record four shutouts in his first 14 starts. And the Blues most likely wouldn’t have a new franchise-record wining streak.

No, Binnington isn’t the sole reason for the team’s recent success, but he’s a big ol’ part of it. In his 15 starts, Binnington is 13-1-1. His 1.60 GAA and .937 save percentage are both the best in the league (minimum 15 games played), and it’s not even close.  

But Binnington has been a factor in only 17 of the team’s 59 games thus far. So who or what kept this team afloat, even when it was wallowing in the league’s cellar?

Ryan O’Reilly.

While the Blues played whack-a-mole with their struggles in the first half of the season, O’Reilly quietly grabbed his lunch pail and showed up to work. When the defense crumbled, O’Reilly showed up to play. When the offense couldn’t score, O’Reilly showed up to play. When the team’s superstars were mired in slumps, when the captain got hurt, when the team’s identity was questioned and the leadership criticized, O’Reilly showed up to play and remained indefatigably elite. He leads the team in points (61), with 23 goals and 38 assists. His plus/minus of plus-25 is not only head and shoulders above his teammates, but is top-10 in the NHL. His defensive play should thrust his name into the top contenders for the Selke Trophy, the league’s award to the forward who displays exceptional defensive skill. Simply put, O’Reilly has been a beacon of consistency on an inconsistent team.

Most of the time, when a team falls to last place in the NHL, it never recovers. When the Blues sank to the bottom, Ryan O’Reilly was there, performing chest compressions to keep them alive.

“If we didn’t have him, I don’t know where this team would be,” Jake Allen told me hours before Tuesday’s game against Toronto, hours before O’Reilly scored the game-winner in overtime.

Cue the music. Roll the tape.

What if the Buffalo Sabres weren’t hell-bent on changing their “losing culture”?

And, of course, there is interim head coach Craig Berube. The Blues have now played 40 games under the direction of Berube, and the trajectory of the team since Yeo was fired and Berube took the reins on November 20 has been a steady upward climb. Parsing the team’s record under Berube by 10-game segments illustrates the gradual (at first) and then meteoric (currently) rise from the abyss: (1) 4-5-1, (2) 5-5-0, (3) 6-3-1, (4) 10-0-0. Berube has this team trusting the system. He has them trusting each other. He has—dare I say it?—buy in.

Cue the music. Roll the tape.

What if the front of the Blues net had never been a 7-Eleven?

Of course, the questions could go on forever.

In this 11-game winning streak, Tarasenko has 10 goals and 20 points.

What if Tarasenko never snapped out of his slump?

Before this season, Oskar Sundqvist’s career high in goals was 1. To the surprise of everyone on the planet, including himself, he has 11 this year and has been an integral part of the Blues secondary scoring.

What if it wasn’t Sunny’s world?

And so forth.

But one thing is for certain: at the start of the season, with the Blues mired in losses, battling peccadillos and full-fledged crises, no one could have anticipated the turnaround this team would make in the new year. No one could have seen the run this team would go on. No one would have believed that if they could have just looked into the future a few months, they would have returned to reassure a frustrated locker room and a disheartened fanbase that not only would the ship would be righted, but records would be broken and the team would capture the attention of the hockey world. That, yes, history would be made.

Cue the music.