Unlikely St Louis Blues Playoff Heroes

St Louis Blues playoff
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Post-season heroes come in all forms from the star player to the unknown fourth-liner. We all know the exploits of the great playoff performers. However, we hardly hear about the unlikely playoff heroes. These unlikely post-season stars can contribute in many ways. Contributions could be for an entire playoff run, a series, a game, or even a goal. These unlikely heroes have made big plays that no one expects. This series looks at all of these unknown stars. These are the unlikely St Louis Blues playoff heroes.

St Louis Blues Playoff Heroes

Doug Wickenheiser

Before the Moment

The 1985-86 St. Louis Blues made a surprise playoff run to the Campbell Conference Final. A 3rd place finish in the Norris Division earned the Blues a 5th seed in the Campbell Conference. Bernie Federko turned in another stellar season (34 goals, 68 assists), while winger Mark Hunter (44 goals, 30 assists) and defenceman Rob Ramage (10 goals, 56 assists) had career years. The goaltending tandem of Rick Wamsley (42 GP, 3.44 GAA, .894 SV%) and Greg Millen (36 GP, 3.59 GAA, .886 SV%) helped the Blues have a Campbell Conference-best 291 goals allowed. The Blues went on to win in five games against the Minnesota North Stars and in seven games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, leading the Blues to a conference finals date with the Calgary Flames.

Doug Wickenheiser‘s star had fallen in years prior. A 1st overall pick in 1980 by the Montreal Canadiens, the Regina native was dealt to the Blues in 1983, with Greg Paslawski and Gilbert Delorme, for 1979 2nd overall pick Perry Turnbull. Wickenheiser had a decent 1984-85 campaign, scoring 23 goals and dishing out 20 assists. But he only played 36 games in 1985-86, tallying eight goals and 11 assists. He wasn’t a major contributor at all during the regular season, but his biggest Blues contribution was yet to come.

The Moment

The Blues stunned Calgary at the Saddledome in Game 1, winning 3-2. The Flames would then win handily in Games 2 and 3 before the Blues claimed a 5-2 win to tie the series up at two games apiece. A 4-2 loss in Calgary for Game 5 put the Blues on the ropes and a 5-2 lead with just under 13 minutes remaining appeared to give the Flames the knockout blow. To rub it in, former Blues prospect Joe Mullen scored that fifth goal.

But on May 12, 1986, the Blues would not concede the fight in the St. Louis Arena.

Just over a minute later, Flames netminder Mike Vernon nonchalantly deflected a Paslawski shot onto the stick of Brian Sutter, who buried it to cut the Flames lead to 5-3. With just over four minutes remaining in the game, Sutter would chase down the puck in the Flames zone and return the favour for Paslawski, centring him a pass that he’d bury under Vernon’s five-hole. Then, with 1:08 left on the St. Louis Arena clock, Paslawski’s hustle allowed him to pickpocket Jamie Macoun near the Flames net and fire it by an unsuspecting Vernon to tie the game at 5-5.

In the overtime period, the Flames appeared to get better chances than the Blues. But one chance was all the Blues would need. Seven minutes and 30 seconds into OT, Federko would feed Hunter a pass on a two-on-one. Hunter fired it at Vernon, who stopped it but allowed the rebound to bounce off his pads…and onto the stick of Wickenheiser, who was trailing the play. A diving Vernon was helpless as Wickenheiser buried it into a gaping net, and completed the iconic “Monday Night Miracle” that Blues fans still talk about today.

After the moment

Blues fans wish they could say this miraculous moment propelled their team to the Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens. But it was not to be. The Blues offence fell flat in Game 7 in Calgary, and the Blues could only muster 18 shots against Vernon, going scoreless for 58 minutes in the 2-1 loss. Blues owner Harry Ornest bragged after the season that he had the best and lowest-paid head coach in Jacques Demers. He also had no written contract and thus, went to the Detroit Red Wings that offseason for better pay. Seven years later, Demers would guide the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup in the 1992-93 offseason.

Wickenheiser was claimed in the NHL’s Waiver Draft by the Hartford Whalers, then Vancouver Canucks in October 1987. He’d play a full, unproductive season in Vancouver before finishing his career with the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. He’d retire at the age of 28 in 1990, and die of lung cancer in 1999.

Pat Maroon

Before the Moment

Much has been said already about the St. Louis Blues 2018-19 season. The trade for Ryan O’Reilly. The return of David Perron. The slow start. The firing of Mike Yeo. The appointment of Craig Berube. The rise of Jordan Binnington. The late-season rise. The courage of Blues super-fan Laila Anderson.

One story that was lost among those storylines (until his playoff heroics) was Pat Maroon. The Oakville, Missouri native returned home for the first time in his career after signing a one-year deal well into the free agency period. But after a nearly point-per-game performance after being traded to the New Jersey Devils the year prior, Maroon was slow out of the gate. He moved around the lineup a lot and finished with a disappointing 10 goals and 18 assists. Heading into the playoffs, he found himself firmly entrenched in the Blues’ bottom-six forwards.

The moment

After a tough six-game series against the Winnipeg Jets, the Blues found themselves with home-ice advantage against the Dallas Stars. This didn’t really help the Blues, who had a 5-1 road record but a 2-4 record at home heading into the pivotal Game 7. The Blues were down 3-2 to the Stars but won Game 6 in Dallas 4-1 to send the series back to St. Louis.

Vince Dunn got the scoring started in the first period for the Blues, but a lucky bounce helped Mats Zuccarello tie it up near the end of the 1st period. That’s when the stalemate began. The Stars offence went cold and the Blues peppered Stars netminder with shot after shot. However, Bishop (who partially grew up in St. Louis) would not break on the way to a marvellous 52 save performance. The second period, third period, and first overtime would end with no goals for either team.

Anxiety would reach an all-time high at St. Louis’s Enterprise Center in the second overtime period. With just over 14 minutes left on the clock, Tyler Bozak would win a face-off for the Blues on the near-side circle in the Dallas zone. It’d go to Maroon, who deflected it over to a cutting Robert Thomas. He’d dance towards the boards, then cut back in once a hole opened near the face-off dot. That hole would become a one-on-one chance against Bishop. Thomas, known more for his passing, would fire a wrister over Bishop’s left glove. It clanked off the post, then bounced off Bishop’s back and onto the crease behind him. Maroon, who was just off to Thomas’s right, cut toward the net for the rebound chance. He reached over Bishop, beat Miro Heiskanen‘s stick, and tapped the puck in to send the Blues crowd into absolute bedlam.

The veteran from the St. Louis suburbs…forever in St. Louis Blues playoff history.

After the moment

The Blues miracle season continued into the Western Conference finals against the San Jose Sharks. The series started with a 6-3 loss, as the Blues adapted from a grind-it-out Stars to the Sharks’ more skilled offensive attack. However, the Blues adapted and, outside of the infamous Game 3 that ended with an OT goal aided by an illegal hand pass, battered and bruised the Sharks on the way to a 4-2 series win. The Blues would end up in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins, and that story continues with our next unlikely St Louis Blues playoff hero.

Carl Gunnarsson

Before the moment

Carl Gunnarsson has had an 11-year career as a mid-to-bottom pairing defenceman. Drafted in the 7th round by the Toronto Maple Leafs, he played five seasons there…when he was healthy. In 2013-14, he played the most games in a single season of his career: 80. That earned him a one-way ticket to St. Louis, as he was traded that offseason for mercurial defenceman Roman Polak. The story remained mostly the same for “Gunnar” in STL: a steady yet brittle presence in the mid-to-bottom defensive pairing. Injuries kept Gunnarsson for much of 2018-19, with the Swede only getting 25 games, the lowest of his career. And yet, he still managed to get in 19 playoff games during the Blues’ Stanley Cup run. One of them was Game 2 in Boston as one of the most unlikely St Louis Blues playoff heroes.

The Moment

Much like the San Jose series that preceded, the Blues got off to a loss against the Bruins. After losing 4-2, the Blues would battle the Eastern Conference champions to overtime. The teams traded goals in the 1st period, then a stalemate took the game into overtime.

Not before Gunnarsson had a chance to win the game for the Blues. Late in the 3rd period, he sent a shot clanking off the post. During intermission, he happened to run into Berube in the restroom. Gunnarsson told his head coach he needed just “one more chance.”

He got it.

Gunnarsson picked up the puck off the rebound and cycled it over to Ryan O’Reilly. Then, he was fed the puck right back to him for a ripe, long-distance one-timer. With the aid of Alex Pietrangelo and Ivan Barbashev screening out front, he hammered it past Tuukka Rask to even the series at 1-1.

After the moment

Gunnarsson’s game-winner proved the Blues had what it takes to beat the Bruins. Boston would get revenge in St. Louis with a 7-2 Game 3 loss, but the Blues would force Game 7 in Boston, where Jordan Binnington had some heroics of his own. He repeatedly stonewalled the Bruins in the 1st period, sparking the Blues offence to a stunning Game 7 win in Boston and an even more stunning Stanley Cup win. Gunnarsson remains a 6th/7th-type of defenceman for the Blues heading into 2021, and his story will remain one of the most unique in St Louis Blues playoff history.

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