12 May 2016

After years of unrealized potential, the St. Louis Blues are busting into the conference finals

by Craig Custance
ESPN Senior Writer

DALLAS -- A black curtain separates the hallway between the players' dressing rooms of the
St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.
     As the Stars slowly filed through the hallway and back to their stalls after their 6-1 loss to the Blues in Game 7 on Wednesday, the weight of disappointment was heavy on their shoulders. A security guard walked over to the curtains and pulled them even tighter as the Stars' season came to a close.
     It wasn't nearly enough to shield the shouts of celebration from the Blues players as they left the ice and started peeling off equipment. There was forward Ryan Reaves, standing at the door and greeting his teammates with yells and celebration. Other Blues waited in the hallway to congratulate each of the guys as they made their way back from the handshake line.
     The Blues had just dominated their way to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2001, and it felt great. It was a final, emphatic example that this Blues team is creating its own destiny and is not weighed down by the failures of the past.
     Blues captain David Backes, who scored the fourth goal in this game, one that deflated a realistic comeback attempt from the Stars, has been part of this organization since it drafted him in 2003.

Brian Elliott's play has led the Blues' breakthrough. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

     At that point, the Blues were only two years removed from a trip to the conference finals. Now, 13 years later for Backes, his team is ready to be one of the last four teams standing. The shortcomings of the past are less of a painful memory and now a true stepping stone to potentially something great.
     "It's taken a lot of hard work from these guys. It's taken a group that has really bound together when we've had our backs against the walls," Backes said. "We know we're one of the last four teams standing, and we're halfway to our ultimate goal. We still have some work to do. It's a good feeling in this room right now."
     Troy Brouwer has been a part of a championship team, winning the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks. He's also been part of a franchise that has felt the weight of playoff struggles in the past while with the Washington Capitals.
     When he arrived as part of a crucial offseason trade by general manager Doug Armstrong, he saw a group of players he didn't know well but respected immensely. He didn't see guys who choked in the playoffs; he saw guys who ran up against some Western Conference powerhouses in the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings.
     Now he's been part of the breakthrough. His goal was the fifth of Game 7, and it was the dagger. He now has five goals in these playoffs.
     This was why he was brought aboard -- and why a younger, skillful T.J. Oshie was sent the other way. It was for this moment and the ones to come.
     "We've really wanted this from Day 1," Brouwer said. "We're putting ourselves in a good situation to continue going forward. But we're only halfway there."
The Blues filled the net in the first period against the Stars. Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports
     The Blues were no doubt aided in Game 7 by ugly goaltending at the worst possible time for the Stars, with Kari Lehtonen allowing three goals in the first period and Antti Niemi yielding another two in the second.
     Nobody in the Stars room would pin it on goaltending. They defended their goalie. Dallas coach Lindy Ruff pointed out scoring chances that were blown.
     Lehtonen, though, knew.
     "As a goalie, you try to make every save. Today, I wasn't able to do that. Of course, I feel bad about that," Lehtonen said. "That's it."
     And that was it. The Stars never recovered. And maybe this was going to be the result anyway. The Blues entered this game with a calm the Stars clearly didn't have, certainly not in goal, where the difference was staggering between Brian Elliott and his counterparts in Dallas.
     Afterward, Blues forward Steve Ott said there weren't even nerves. That's how far these Blues have come. It's the biggest game of the season and Ott described it as stress-free.
     "To a man here, the mindset was there was no stress," Ott said. "Guys were laughing, having fun. We have a fun, lively group. It really felt stress-free and natural. It translated into our game."
Stress-free? That's certainly not how you'd describe the Blues' approach in big games of the past.
     "No. It's this team. This year. People love dwelling on last year's team. Everybody does and compares it," Ott said. "Every team is different ... every team is different, coupled with the experience of letdowns."
     Blues owner Tom Stillman worked his way around the dressing room, shaking the hands of his players, hugging others. To him, this game felt different than the Game 7 win against the Blackhawks in the first round. That final buzzer came with jubilation in the owners box. This one? It felt more like a relief. He could relax.
     "Rather than being whipped up into a frenzy, you're like, 'It happened,'" Stillman said.
      Finally, it happened. After 15 long years, it happened.
      Stillman came over to Ott with a big smile and gave him one word: "Awesome."
      It has been awesome so far for these Blues. Now they're in position for it to get even better.

09 May 2016

Brian Elliott!


Brian Elliott

05 May 2016

Washington National Cathedral

Tribute to Stan by Bob Costas

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

1934 Cardinals

1934 Cardinals

1964

1964 World Series Program St. Louis Cardinals Version1964 World Series Program New York Yankees Version

After another devastating loss in the previous year's Classic, a different New York Yankees team returned to represent the American League in 1964. Yogi Berra had replaced Ralph Houk at the helm and under his guidance, the Yanks managed to barely win the American League pennant by a single game over the Chicago White Sox. It was the fifteenth World Series for the former Yankee catcher as Berra had first appeared in the contest in 1947 and went on play in a record seventy-five games before his last outing in 1963. Many of his former teammates had remained in New York as Mickey Mantle prepared to play in his twelfth postseason exhibition, Whitey Ford entered his eleventh and Bobby Richardson posted his ninth appearance. Roger Maris, who was only in his fifth season as a Yankee, had never missed the World Series since donning the blue pinstripes. Their opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals had just missed the previous year's contest by finishing six games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (who had dethroned the once-mighty Yankees in a four game sweep) and were determined to follow suite. Much like their American League rivals though, the Cards had a lot of luck to thank for their latest post-season opportunity. First the Nationals lost their General Manager in mid-August, but managed to climb from fifth to first (with considerable help from the Philadelphia Phillies, who blew a 6½ game league lead with twelve games to play).

Whitey Ford, always a postseason standout, held onto a 4-2 lead going into the sixth inning of the opener, but St. Louis right fielder Mike Shannon hammered a long two run homer off the veteran lefty and when catcher Tim McCarver followed with a double, the thirty-five year-old Ford was through for

the day, and (because of arm problems) the Series. The 9-5 loss of Game 1 as well as their #1 ace should have been a sign for what was to come as the Yanks were now experiencing a new kind of streak… a losing one. The opening fiasco was their fifth consecutive loss in World Series play and for the first time (in a long time) the Yankees were the underdogs.

In an attempt to jumpstart his team, Berra gave the Game 2 ball to an up-and-coming rookie named Mel Stottlemyre who went against Cardinal ace Bob Gibson. Stottlemyre had thrown strong down the home stretch (after getting called up from Richmond in August) and was a deciding factor for New York in the close American League pennant race. Both pitchers stood firm until Gibson left the game and his relief surrendered four ninth inning runs for an 8-3 loss that put the "Bombers" back in the race. Game 3 followed the same script as veteran Curt Simmons and the Yankees' Jim Bouton were locked in a 1-1 tie through eight innings. Manager Johnny Keane used a pinch-hitter for Simmons in the ninth as the Cards threatened, but failed, to score. Barney Schultz, a clutch reliever for St. Louis, entered the game in the bottom of the ninth and threw one pitch, which Mantle promptly launched into the right-field stands for the 2-1 win. Ray Sadecki started Game 4 against the Yanks Al Downing, but was taken for three quick first inning runs. Downing faired better and protected the lead going into the fifth, but the lefty was nailed by Ken Boyer for a grand-slam in the following inning. With relievers Roger Craig and Ron Taylor combining for 8 2/3 innings of two hit, scoreless relief, St. Louis went on to even the Series with a 4-3 victory.

Bob Gibson returned for Game 5 and was one out away from a 2-0 victory when the Yanks' Tom Tresh ripped a two run homer that tied it up. Gibson prevailed however, after Tim McCarver came up huge with a three run blast off of Yanks reliever Pete Mikkelsen for the 5-3 victory. Game 6 witnessed yet another nail-biter as the contest remained tied 1-1 going into the sixth. This time it was the Yankees coming up big with two consecutive home runs by Mantle and Maris and a grand slam by Joe Pepitone off reliever Gordon Richardson in the eighth. When it was over, New York had won 8-3 while staying alive and forcing a final Game 7.

Stottlemyre and Gibson both returned for the climatic finale and held each other scoreless through three innings. Then the Cardinals broke loose for three runs in the fourth and three more in the fifth, touched off by a home run by Lou Brock. Brock (a mid-June acquisition from the Cubs) proved to be a brilliant investment during the regular season after stealing thirty-three bases and batting .348 in one-hundred three games. Mantle responded with a three run homer in the sixth and Clete Boyer and Phil Linz both followed "The Mick's" lead in the ninth. Despite their efforts, Gibson stood tall and finished the complete-game with a 7-5 Cardinal triumph.

The Boyer brothers had both come up big for their respective teams and set a record as the first set of brothers to hit home runs in the same Series. Ken had contributed two for St. Louis and Clete added one for New York (with one for each coming in the same game). For the Cardinals, it was the end of a long postseason drought as they had not appeared in the Fall Classic since 1946. For the Yankees, it was the end of an era as the perennial champions were about to start a drought of their own. Within two years, the American League dynasty would fall from first to last and it would be several years before returning to their former glory (twelve years). It was the last World Series appearance for many regulars including Mantle (who set the all-time Series home run record at eighteen), Ford, Richardson, Kubek and Boyer. Howard would appear in the Classic once more (with the Boston Red Sox) and Maris was destined to play in two more with the Cardinals. Both managers were no longer at the helm after the Series (Berra was fired & Keane resigned), but in a strange twist, it would be the unemployed Cardinals skipper Johnny Keane who resurfaced in a Yankees uniform as Yogi Berra's replacement.

THE VERBAL GIMMICK.

Clearly, modern civilization would be impossible without these four words: "Spring forward. Fall back."