Why will the Blues win the Stanley Cup? They’ve learned their lessons

Ryan Kennedy
St. Louis Blues

(Editor’s note: The Blues were our pre-season pick to win the Stanley Cup and when it came time to put together our Playoff Preview edition late in the season, we saw no reason to change. Of course, then they went out and lost six in a row to close the regular season. Are we nervous our Cup pick could go out in the first round? That’s an understatement. But we still believe. And a big part of that belief comes from what Ryan Kennedy explored in his cover story for the Playoff Preview issue: the Blues have learned from their tough lessons. Here is that story.)

Since his star turn for team USA at the Sochi Olympics, T.J. Oshie hasn’t had much time to soak in life as a real American hero. Along with all the fame he got stateside for his shootout heroics against Russia, he welcomed his first child, Lyla Grace, into the world. “It’s been a little bit of an emotional roller coaster,” he says. “But all for the best, I guess besides leaving the Olympics with nothing to show for it. Having my baby girl was the best moment of my life, hands down.”

In the professional arena, there is one thing that could come close, of course: finally bringing a Stanley Cup to St. Louis, the only still-functioning franchise from the 1967 expansion cohort yet to win the title.

The St. Louis Blues played for the Cup in their first three years of existence thanks to an unbalanced NHL that had the expansion teams in one division and the Original Six in another. Despite the presence of future Hall of Famers such as Glenn Hall, Doug Harvey and Jacques Plante, the Blues were bludgeoned all three times, winning zero games in sweeps to Montreal (twice) and Boston. As the years went on, no manner of star power could get the team back to the final, and that includes vaunted names such as Brett Hull, Al MacInnis and even Wayne Gretzky.

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The Phoenix Coyotes win the 2014 Stanley Cup…of Hope

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images Sport)

Here’s an easy way for the NHL to make even more money: hold a post-season tournament for all non-playoff teams to determine the Stanley Cup of Hope.

The inspiration for the idea comes from the Kontinental League, which started the Nadezhda Cup (a.k.a. Cup of Hope) last season for teams that missed the playoffs. The, er, “winner” takes home around $600,000 and gets a top pick in the KHL draft.

It’s an out-there idea, for sure, and I’m not necessarily endorsing it, but let’s indulge it for a moment.

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Grant Fuhr a man at peace as he prepares tell-all book

Matt Larkin
Grant Fuhr

It’s a dark, frigid morning during Toronto’s cruelest winter in 20 years. Anyone awake is annoyed about it, unable or unwilling to string two sentences together. Except a Hall of Fame goaltender named Grant Fuhr, who saunters into the Westin Harbour Castle hotel lobby, fashionably late, with the cheerful Zen of a monk. Maybe it’s his surgically replaced knee, made of titanium, that keeps him from hurrying anywhere. “He sets off all the alarms at the airport,” says his fiancée, Lisa.

Or maybe Fuhr glides along with such tranquility because he simply has life all figured out.

What he’s about to do is daunting in theory. After years out of the public eye, he’s resurfacing to make about a dozen major media appearances in a row. Breakfast Television, TSN radio, and so on. He’s promoting a soon-to-be released autobiography. It’s a tell-all, meaning he’ll account his best days backstopping the Edmonton Oilers dynasty and his adventures in golf, but he’ll also face the harder parts of his life head on. That includes his battle with cocaine use, which led to a lengthy suspension during his playing career.

Some people would be jittery resurfacing to be thrust in the spotlight for 12 straight hours, but not Fuhr. He’s one of the sport’s all-time best money goalies, remember. He has five Stanley Cup rings and a Canada Cup. And when the camera or microphone is in his face, Fuhr, now 51, laps up the pressure, no problem. He answers questions on anything, from his playing days to Canada’s 2014 Olympic team, with such little hesitation that he’s, well, goalie-like in his reaction time. “This is fun,” he says. “I haven’t done this for years.”

Maybe Fuhr is so comfortable with the attention because he attracted so much of it during his career. He was a highly coveted goaltender coming out of junior, drafted eighth overall by the Oilers in 1981. An athletic netminder who modelled himself after Tony Esposito, he was a perfect fit on the most high-octane offense the game has ever known, because the team’s style was familiar to him. “I loved playing for a run-and-gun team,” he says. “I got lucky enough that when I was playing junior in Victoria, that was the first time I’d seen a run-and-gun team, so with junior and the training, my progression to the NHL was playing the same style of hockey. It was comfortable for me.”

Fuhr battled for time with Andy Moog, which he believes made him a better goalie, and became Edmonton’s primary starter for most of the 1980s, especially during the playoffs. Fuhr played a crucial role in four of the five Cups he won with Edmonton, including an incredible 1988 run in which he went 16-2 en route to the Oil’s fourth Cup in five years. Wayne Gretzky called Fuhr the greatest goalie in the history of the game,

Fuhr played in six All-Star Games, won the 1988 Vezina Trophy and was acrobatically sensational for Canada in the 1987 Canada Cup, too. But he wasn’t just a star for what he did on the ice. He’s not the first black player in NHL history, but he is the first black superstar. “You notice it more now,” Fuhr says. At the time you just treated yourself as a player, first and foremost.  Obviously with Willie O’Ree and Mike Marson, Billy Riley, Tony McKegney, all those guys playing ahead of me, you didn’t really think of it that way. So I just feel pretty fortunate to have ended up in a spot where I could be successful.”

He is also remembered for being suspended by the NHL for a year in 1990 for using cocaine throughout the mid to late 1980s. The league was aware Fuhr had been clean for a year, but punished him for conduct “dishonorable and against the welfare of the league.” He earned early reinstatement by February 1991 and played a key role in another deep Oiler playoff run. “My only hard feelings out of the whole thing was it was probably about two or three years late, but at the same time, you make a mistake and you’ve got to pay the price,” Fuhr says. “We were just young and got caught up with the wrong crowd. It was a young, dumb mistake.”

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Does shot-blocking do more harm than good?

Jason Kay
St. Louis Blues v Philadelphia Flyers

Ryan Getzlaf’s puck-in-the-puss last night wasn’t your classic shot block, but it has started to stir the age-old debate: is it a good idea for players to throw themselves in front of cannonading vulcanized rubber?

The issue is multi-pronged.

For starters, does it help the cause? The recent data says not necessarily and certainly not always. Take last night’s games. The Ducks topped the six teams who played, with an eye-popping 28 blocks, and held off a Dallas rally. The next three in terms of number of blocks – Columbus, Tampa and the Stars – each lost.

That small sample size mirrors the final tallies from the 2013 playoffs. None of the top five teams in shot blocks per game made it out of the second round. The champion Chicago Blackhawks ranked 12th in blocks per playoff game among the 16 participants.

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Bruins’ Rask makes young cancer patient’s wish come true, creates custom-made goalie mask for her

Adam Proteau
Tuukka Rask

In mid-March, Boston Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to delight nine-year-old Maddie Santotuosso, a Boston-area girl fighting a rare tissue cancer, when he visited her at a local sporting goods store and helped her pick out brand new goaltender equipment. The youngster and huge Bruins fan was thrilled to meet one of her idols. (Her story begins at the 9:40 mark of this video.)

However, Rask’s act of kindness didn’t end there. Read more

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs bracket

The Hockey News
Stanley Cup bracket image

A new era of the Stanley Cup playoffs begins this spring as the divisional format is introduced. Rather than teams being re-seeded after each round, this year’s playoffs will follow a hard bracket: if you win your first round series, you play the other series winner in your division, no matter the regular season ranking.

This bracket will be updated daily as we creep closer to the Stanley Cup.

Who are you picking to come out of the first round? Who are you picking to win it all? Read more

Fleury, Price just good enough to win Game 1

Price save

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. If the four teams in the Eastern Conference play throughout the playoffs the way they did on the first night of the post-season, none of them will be around beyond the second round.

It was a night where all the playoff rules were broken, but also one in a couple of hockey’s age-old axioms held true. The notion that defense and goaltending rule in the playoffs went out the window very early in both the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 overtime win over Tampa Bay and the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The age-old theory that scoring dries up in the playoffs also made a hasty retreat.

But, hey, it’s the Eastern Conference. If you’re looking for masterpiece games from a defensive standpoint, take your complaints to Dave King. If you seek actual entertainment, intensity and some pretty damn compelling hockey, don’t take your eyeballs off the screen for a second.

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