Blues’ first win stirs memories of Red, Scotty and a flying Orr
Three future Hall of Famers – two with Michigan ties – are remembered after St. Louis’ first Stanley Cup Final win: Red Berenson, Scotty Bowman and Bobby Orr.
When defenseman Carl Gunnarsson scored 3:51 into overtime on Wednesday night at the TD Garden in Boston, it not only knotted the Stanley Cup Final at one game apiece but it also gave the St. Louis Blues their first-ever win in a Stanley Cup Final game.
And it took them only 52 years to get it.
St. Louis, which defeated Boston 3-2 Wednesday, reached the Stanley Cup Finals in the franchise’s first three seasons, 1967-68 through 1969-70.
The Blues were among the NHL’s first modern-era expansion teams when they joined the league along with the Minnesota North Stars (now Dallas Stars), Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings and Oakland Seals – who eventually joined the Minnesota North Stars – for the 1967-68 season to double the size of the league. Before then, dating back to 1942-43, the NHL had consisted of the Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers – the fabled Original Six.
For some reason in 1967, the league decided to put all the Original Six teams in the East Division and all the expansion teams in the West. This alignment guaranteed that an expansion team would reach the Stanley Cup Final in its first season. That team would be the Blues, who represented the West Division in the Cup Final from 1968-1970.
And as it has happened in a lot of hockey history, some names quite familiar to area hockey fans were involved.
St. Louis’ first coach, Lynn Patrick, resigned in late November after the team started out 4-13-2. He was replaced by his 34-year-old assistant coach, Scotty Bowman, thus giving the future Red Wings coach his first NHL head coaching job.
As most hockey fans know, Bowman would go on to coach NHL teams to nine Stanley Cups, including three with the Red Wings (1997-1998 and 2002). Bowman was already in the Hall of Fame before he became Detroit’s coach in 1993.
The Blues made another key move later that month when, on Nov. 29, they obtained Red Berenson in a trade with the Rangers, along with defenseman Barclay Plager, for Ron Stewart and Ron Attwell.
Berenson, of course, is best known for his legendary coaching career at Michigan, which landed him in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. But he was also a very good NHL player during his 17-season career, which included stints with Detroit and Montreal. He’s still considered the greatest hockey player in the history of the University of Michigan, where he received a business degree in 1962 and an MBA in ’66.
Berenson, a center, scored 22 goals and had 51 points in 51 games with St. Louis in 1967-68, 35 goals and 82 points in 1968-69, and 33 goals and 72 points in 1969-70. Also, during the 1968-69 season (Nov. 11, 1968), he scored six goals in a game, becoming one of only three players in the NHL’s modern era – since 1942-43 – to do so.
But there weren’t many skilled players in their prime like Berenson available to Bowman and the Blues. So he acquired a few veterans who were past their prime but knew how to play the game. The team’s captain those three seasons was previously a journeyman – mostly minor league – defenseman named Al Arbour, 35 in 1967-68, who would go on to coach the New York Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cups (1980-83) and be enshrined as a coach in the HOF.
And there were more future Hall of Famers. The Blues’ No. 1 goalie in 1967-68 was future Hall of Famer Glenn Hall, 36 that season. The following season he was joined by another future HOF goaltender, Jacques Plante, who was 39 when the 1968-69 began and turned 40 in January.
That duo backstopped St. Louis to the 1969 and 1970 Stanley Cup Finals.
Future Hall of Famers Dickie Moore (37 in 1967-68) and defenseman Doug Harvey (44 in 1968-69) also spent time with the Blues during those seasons.
But all of that veteran experience was not enough to avert sweeps in the Cup Finals by the Canadiens in 1968 and 1969 and the Bruins in 1970.
Which brings us to another piece of NHL history. Boston’s overtime Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1970 was scored by legendary defenseman Bobby Orr, who tipped a pass past Hall just before he himself was tripped. The result was the iconic photo of Orr flying through the air with arms spread in celebration.
Ironically, 49 years later, St. Louis finally got its first Cup Final win against Boston.
Maybe now the Blues can take care of another dubious distinction: They are oldest active NHL team never to win the Stanley Cup.
Game 3 is Saturday night in St. Louis (8 p.m., CBC and NBC).