By Lou Korac
So … first Stanley Cup Final game in St. Louis since 1970, Cardinals hosting the Cubs this weekend. Just your average, sporting weekend in St. Louis right?
“I really haven’t had much interaction with the fans,” Blues forward and Oakville native Pat Maroon said. “I mean just watching people watching the news, just the buzz around the city is amazing. It’s going to be a huge day tomorrow. You got the Cards-Cubs and the Blues playoff game. So there’s going to be over 100,000 people in downtown St. Louis. It’s a city that needs this, a city that’s been, I feel like, down. This is what we needed just to amp the city back up again.”
Consider the Blues playing hockey at Enterprise Center in June something that will amp this city back up. Not that playing in a Cup Final game for the first time in 49 years won’t do it.
Or the fact that they’re doing it for all the past greats that have donned the Blues jersey that never made it to this point won’t do it either.
“We’re expecting a lot of the same and I anticipate a loud building, the city’s buzzing,” Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “It’s supposed to be a beautiful weekend out, so I’m sure people will have fun outside before the game. There’s an energy to the city and I’m sure it will carry right through to the building.”
The Blues will host Games 3-4 on Saturday and Monday (7 p.m. for both puck drops; NBCSN on Saturday, NBC on Monday and KMOX 1120-AM on the dial for both), and in a series tied 1-1 after Carl Gunnarsson gave the Blues their first-ever win in the Stanley Cup Final in a 3-2 overtime win in Game 2, it’ll be more of a thunderous, earthquake-like atmosphere.
“Yeah, it’s been fun,” Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. ‘It’s a cool opportunity for obviously all of us in this room. We have a really good group of guys and it’s been a lot of fun all season long. We’ve obviously been through a difficult time this season, and kind of turning it around and being here has been unbelievable and it’s so much fun for us. Just touch on different things, like the coaching staff, the fans have been incredible, just the whole city has been kind of cool too. To be a part of it, for everybody, I think that’s the best part. We’re all in it together.”
What will be important for probably the Blues’ coaching staff more than anything is to keep players’ emotional levels to a minimum, especially at the start of the game, to not try and come out too emotional and be taxed too soon.
Temper the emotions and play the right way will be the key.
“Yeah, I agree with that,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. “That’s a good question. We talk about it for sure. We talked about that a lot. Both rinks, keeping your emotions in check. That’s going to be important, and that’s going to be great for the city and the fans. We’re excited for them, obviously us too, but waiting a long time for that game and it’s going to be exciting. I’m really happy for the fans and the city for sure.”
It’ll be extremely tough on a guy like Maroon, who was born and raised here and attended games with his family as a kid.
“Yeah, I’ve been trying to hold in my excitement,” Maroon said. “Just trying to hold my emotions in, just because we’re so close to something special here. So I think you kind of hold it in. Kind of focus on your game. Focus on what you can do and control. I’m just trying to hold it in right now.
“Obviously family’s excited. Everyone around you is excited. Friends. But for me, I’m just trying to hold it in, focus on my game right now.”
* NOTES — The Blues will add one more obstacle (Oskar Sundqvist’s one-game suspension) to the list of things to overcome. Sundqvist will sit out Game 3 and likely be replaced by Zach Sanford, who skated on the fourth line today.
Also, Vladimir Tarasenko took a maintenance day Friday, according to Berube, and Sundqvist skated on his line as the place holder with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn.
Berube didn’t rule out Robert Thomas, who missed Game 2 and hasn’t skated regularly since Game 3 of the conference final, and didn’t skate on Friday. It’s doubtful he plays.
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports