Duncan Keith has been a long time foe, often despised by St. Louis Blues fans. But one night he left Blues fans in agony may have laid the foundation for pure ecstasy felt just over a year later.
How Duncan Keith Helped the Blues
2017-18 Regular Season
The 2017-18 St. Louis Blues were… complicated. On Thanksgiving Day, 2017, the Blues led the West with 33 points, 4 points above second-placed Winnipeg Jets. Things were looking good. Head coach Mike Yeo continued to direct the team towards success, Jake Allen was solid, and the offence couldn’t stop lighting the lamp. However, it all took a dark turn come December and January. Win streaks would be cancelled out by losing streaks and Allen faltered until the team hit rock bottom starting February 11, 2018.
A 7 game losing streak and the St. Louis Blues were on the outside looking in. Doug Armstrong pulled the trigger and traded away pending UFA, center Paul Stastny, to the Winnipeg Jets. But right when it looked like it was over, it wasn’t! The Blues emerged from the dead, clawing their way back into the playoff race with the likes of the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and Colorado Avalanche.
Game 80 vs Chicago
The stage was set and this team had destiny in its own hands. One point back of Colorado with a game in hand, the Blues were ready for a home and home against an old enemy. An enemy that had already given St. Louis its share of tears and cheers. This enemy was none other than the Chicago Blackhawks. But the Hawks were no longer the monster that won three cups in six years. No, they were a fragile, weak, and ageing team. They were eliminated from the playoffs and heading towards a rebuild. The perfect opportunity for the Blues to seize.
It started out great, a 3-1 lead from goals by Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, and Robert Bortuzzo. But at 9:48 of the 2nd period, on the powerplay, Ivan Barbashev couldn’t get the puck over Berube’s right pad and Oscar Sundqvist couldn’t bury the rebound. No biggie, right? A minute later, it’s Blake Hillman scoring a shorthanded dagger on a shot that Allen should’ve had.
In the third, Alex DeBrincat tied the game at 8:30. The Blues were collapsing again and the Hawks had no mercy. With just a little over two minutes left in the game, Patrick Sharp worked his way into the O-Zone against three defenders. Pushing his way towards Allen, Sharp drew a penalty against Chris Butler. The Chicago Blackhawks went to work on the powerplay.
On a MUST kill penalty to force the game to overtime and collect at least a point, the Blues continued collapsing in the defensive zone. DeBrincat, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith played catch as the clock ticked down to single digits. “DeBrincat, cross-ice shot – SCORE! DUNCAN KEITH! WITH 8.5 SECONDS REMAINING!” Kenny Albert yelled in a stunned, silenced Scottrade Center. It was the same old foe who had tormented them for the past decade. With taunts like, “Wakey, wakey Backes!” while accumulating accolades like the Conn Smythe Trophy and Norris Trophy. That night, it seemed like yet again, he walked out with the last laugh.
Three days later, the Blues would play the Colorado Avalanche in the last game of the season to decide who would take that elusive last playoff spot. In normal Blues fashion, the team choked, giving Colorado a one-point lead in the standings. As well as sending them on a playoff date with the Nashville Predators. But if the Blues, just three nights ago, could’ve survived 8.5 more seconds and forced the game to overtime, they would’ve been the ones battling it out with the Preds in the playoffs for the second year in a row.
At the time, Blues fans were yet again in a state of utter disappointment. 51 years and counting without a taste of Lord Stanley and it seemed wouldn’t come anytime soon. But Doug Armstrong wouldn’t let this team meddle in a state of mediocrity. On July 1st, he was a man on a mission. Picking up the phone and making a blockbuster trade for Ryan O’Reilly. We all know how that worked out.
He also brought back David Perron for his third stint with the team, brought the home town boy Pat Maroon, and signed Tyler Bozak. Despite the 2018-19 Blues’ early struggles, the team rallied and made the playoffs. After that, the rest is history. Needless to say, none of this happens without the moves Armstrong made. Whether it’s Pat Maroon’s Game 7 Double OT winner against the Dallas Stars or O’Reilly’s killer Stanley Cup Final.
The Blues missing the playoffs in 2018 was a wake-up call for the management of this team. They knew they had good pieces in place, but there was still work to be done. But had Duncan Keith not have scored that killer third-period goal, the mediocre Blues would’ve made the playoffs. Thus giving management a false sense of optimism with that group of players.
Sure, Armstrong could’ve made the moves he did if the Blues made the playoffs. But the extent to which he changed the look of this team could have never been achieved in a false vacuum of optimism. So while we all look at Duncan Keith and the Chicago Blackhawks with despise, may we never forget the night where they laid the seed for a championship over a half-century in the making.