There are plenty of candidates for longest-suffering American sports fans. Chicago Cubs fans held the title by acclamation until the World Series win of 2016. The Seattle Mariners have the longest streak without postseason play. The Buffalo Bills get sympathy for their four straight Super Bowl losses.
But for real anguish, consider the St. Louis Blues.
Immediately after joining the NHL in 1967, the Blues made three straight Stanley Cup Finals. But they have not been back since. That’s 48 years of frustration, despite suiting up Hall of Famers like Brett Hull, Chris Pronger, Al MacInnis and Bernie Federko over the years.
Now, after coming back from a 3-2 series deficit against the Dallas Stars and winning Game 7 in double overtime Tuesday night, the Blues are one series away from that elusive Stanley Cup Finals.
Their appearances in three straight finals as an expansion team back in the ’60s may seem like an incredible feat. But it occurred because of a quirky decision by the NHL: The original six teams were all placed in one division, the East, while the six new teams were placed in the West, no matter the geography. So for three years an expansion team was guaranteed to make the finals.
Credit to the Blues for being that team all three seasons. Less credit to the Blues for their performances in those finals. They were swept three straight years, by the Canadiens twice and the Bruins once. To this day then, the Blues have never won a Stanley Cup Finals game.
The next season, the league moved the veteran Chicago Blackhawks to the Western division, and the Blues’ trips to the finals were over.
Over the last five decades, for season after season, the Blues have been stopped, sometimes in the first round, sometimes in the second, sometimes before the playoffs even started. In 2000, they won the Presidents’ Trophy for best record in the regular season, then lost in the first round of the playoffs.
The Blues have come as close as one series away from the finals a few times before: in 1972, 1986, 2001 and 2016. No doubt the 1986 failure was the toughest to take: St. Louis took the favored Calgary Flames to a seventh game only to lose, 2-1.
This season’s team started slowly. Craig Berube replaced Mike Yeo as coach in November, and on Jan. 1 the Blues were dead last in the conference. But they turned it around and were 30-10-5 in 2019. A first-round win over the Winnipeg Jets in six games and the nail-biting series with the Stars have taken them to the cusp of the elusive finals.
Vladimir Tarasenko finished the season with 33 goals, and Ryan O’Reilly, acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in the offseason, had 49 assists. Rookie goalie Jordan Binnington went from fourth-stringer to starter and sparkled, putting up the league’s best goals-against average, 1.89. In the playoffs, Jaden Schwartz has eight goals and Alex Pietrangelo has nine assists.
That’s the crew that is four wins away from breaking a near half-century drought. And eight wins away from doing what no Blues team has ever done, actually lifting the Stanley Cup.