The Team Quickly Caught The Imagination Of Local Fans
The players who skated for them remember the Salomon family fondly. This family brought NHL hockey to St. Louis with style and the team quickly caught the imagination of local fans. "They provided a great environment for the players and fans," Red Berenson says of the Salomons. "We were treated as first-class citizens, which was a first for most of us as hockey players."
Though St. Louis was the last of six cities to get an expansion franchise for the 1967-68 season, Salomon's Blues quickly established a standard for expansion franchises. Though they were swept by the mighty Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season, each was a one-goal game. "What got everybody excited, from the player's standpoint, and what got the fans excited, was when the team took off," Berenson recalls. "You could feel the momentum building. It went right through the playoffs and stayed right through the first four or five years." The players, from youngsters like Barclay and Bob Plager to veterans like Doug Harvey, Dickie Moore and Noel Picard, donned the Blue Note and made it stand for something.
A tradition of toughness and pride was born from the success of the early teams. "Most of us were from up in Canada," Bob Plager says. "We knew how important the Stanley Cup was in Canada. Since we were always the underdogs, a lot of people back home pulled for us. In Canada, there was a lot of sentiment for the Original Six teams-and then there was St. Louis. With Scott Bowman and Lynn Patrick here, we picked up a lot of older players who had been with the Canadiens. They came in and played great. They taught us a lot about winning. Scotty brought in Dickie Moore and told us this guy was going to be our leader," Plager continues. Moore had been an All-Star with Montreal in the l950s and 60s. "I'll never forget the day we went to Tony's Joint in San Francisco and had a meeting. Dickie said, 'After every road game we'll go out, we'll sit down together and we'll talk about the game for half an hour.' It was like that in Montreal. If they went somewhere, they all went together. It was like that for years in St. Louis after that."
Plager loves the story of Moore rebuking a frustrated player who threw his jersey to the locker room floor after a loss. Moore jacked the offender against a wall and lectured him. "That's your sweater," Moore told the startled teammate. "That's your life. The emblem, that Blue Note, must never hit the floor."
And the Blues never really did either.by Jeff Gordon, Gordon covers the Blues in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Winning For Losing
Clearly, if a loser is to win a Conn Smythe Trophy the most likely candidate would be a goaltender, considering his spotlight position. Substantial underdogs? Glenn Hall and the Blues were that multiplied by ten. Hall, an advanced 38 years old, was from an expansion outfit conspicuous for its senior citizens and failure to do no better than a 27-31-16 regular season record. "You certainly couldn't call us favorites," chuckles Al Arbour, Blues defenseman and captain, "not against a team that was loaded down with guys like Jacques Lemaire, Dick Duff and Jean Beliveau." The series itself appears one-sided if you approach it superficially and note that Montreal won the tourney one, two, three, four, to annex the Cup, but the rout beclouds Hall's virtuoso performance.
Hall views the St. Louis experience with as much affection as his nights with the high-flying Blackhawks. "Even though we lost to the Canadiens in a sweep, I didn't feel that it tainted my winning the Smythe Trophy one bit," Hall says. "You have to remember the original NHL expansion in 1967 was totally unfair to the new teams like the Blues. The odds were heavily stacked against us right from the start. So just getting to the Finals and going up against a team as strong as the Canadiens gave us total satisfaction." Although the Blues failed to put together a single win, Hall recalls his teammates with special affection. "We had a great bunch of guys, from Doug Harvey to Red Berenson to Al Arbour to Dickie Moore, and we jelled very well."
The Blues lost the opener 3-2, although they led in both the first and second periods, and forced the Canadiens to overtime. In Game Two, Hall shut out the Habs for two periods and 2:17 of the third. Unfortunately, his teammates got him nothing and Serge Savard came through with Montreal's only goal. Game Three ended tied at 3-3 after regulation, and again, Hall was victimized in sudden death. Significantly, he held his team together right down to the end, and it wasn't until 11:40 of the third period of the fourth game that Montreal went ahead to stay, and won the Stanley Cup. "I was very enthused when I learned I had won the Smythe Trophy," says Hall, "but I would have traded it any day for another Stanley Cup. The whole idea of our business is winning the Cup. We're always looking for the collective trophy more than the individual award, but it certainly was nice to be recognized."
Hall considered the St. Louis experience a special bonus, and for that he is eternally grateful to expansion. "I'll always have a warm spot in my heart for the Blues," he concludes. "I absolutely loved the team, the people and the city, and winning the Smythe in St. Louis is one of the nicest things that ever happened to me."
The Road To The Stanley Cup. . .
. . . seems a bit longer than it did in 1968 when the Blues made their first appearance in the playoffs. Fourteen years ago teams had to win eight games to reach the finals. In 1974, an additional two wins were required with the advent of a best-of-three preliminary round. Last year that preliminary was expanded to a best-of-five series demanding 11 victories of any team reaching the championship round. But since the original expansion only one team ever reached the Stanley Cup finals in the absolute minimum schedule. The St. Louis Blues of 1968-'69. That season the Blues made the quarterfinals against Philadelphia and the semifinals vs. Los Angeles four game sweeps, reaching the finals in a minimum eight games.
Those eight games, plus the final two regular season contests that year still stand as a club record of 10 consecutive victories. Of course, St. Louis fans remember well what happened when the Blues reached the finals that season - Montreal made quick work of St. Louis, 4-0. Until this season, and the Blues' second place finish in the NHL overall standings, 1968-69 held most of the highlights in the Blues record book. This season's total of 107 points was the first ever to surpass the second year total of 88. In fact, of the multiple team and individual records shattered this season by the Blues, six were first established in '68-'69 and nine others established that year, still stand - most notably in goal. Despite the many accomplishments of Mike Liut this year, the goaling tandem of Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante still rates as the best in Blues history.
That year the Blues permitted a mere 157 goals in 76 regular season games. Plante's personal GAA was 1.96 - still a team record. Hall compiled eight shutout performances. Overall Hall and Plante blanked Blues opponents 13 times that year and claimed the league's Vezina Trophy. But that '68-'69 season marked other highlights for the St. Louis franchise. It was the first of two West Division championship seasons - the team had finished third its first year. And who will forget Nov. 7, 1968 when Blues' superstar Red Berenson blitzed Philadelphia goalie Doug Favell with four second period goals in a six goal effort - a feat that has been equaled only once in the NHL since. Toronto's Darryl Sittler posted a half-dozen in a 1976 game against Boston.
Big Ab McDonald and little Camile Henry joined the Blues that season along with Terry Gray, veteran defenseman Doug Harvey and Plante. Old favorites like Ron Shock, Al Arbour, Tim Ecclestone, Gary Sabourin, the three Plager brothers and the sometimes not-so-favorite Larry Keenan all combined for their finest season. Like the veteran performers most were, they all were at their peak when the puck dropped to start the 1968 Stanley Cup playoffs. Home ice advantage was hardly in doubt that season as the club finished 19 points ahead of the second place Oakland Seals (69) and their total of 88 ranked fourth in the entire league.
For the second year in a row the Blues faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. But unlike the '68 series which went seven games, St. Louis flexed its muscles early in this one. Goals by McDonald, Ecclestone, Keenan, Henry and Gray gave St. Louis an impressive 5-2 win in the opener. Five different players found the net again in the second game as St. Louis claimed a 5-0 decision. Plante answered Hall's second game shutout with one of his own when the series moved into Philadelphia for game three. Goals by Sabourin, Shock and Berenson made the final, 3-0.
Philadelphia's scoreless streak had reached 156 minutes and 28 seconds when the Flyers Garry Peters finally broke the scoring drought at 4:54 of the second period in the series fourth game. Unfortunately for the Flyers, the Blues already led 4-0 when Peters found the net. St. Louis won the game 4-1 and the series 4-0. Overall the Blues outscored Philadelphia 17-3 in the series but outshot the losers only 130-127. The Blues sat back to wait for their next victim. While they relaxed, the Seals and fourth place finishing Los Angeles Kings were battling through a tough seven-game series with LA emerging as the surprise winner. Like the Flyers, LA had little luck finding the net when they squared off with the goal-stingy Blues. Berenson scored the hat-trick and Plante recorded the shutout as St. Louis took gam one, 4-0.
A goal by Sabourin late in the third period gave St. Louis a 3-2 decision in the second game. Even Noel Picard scored as the Blues took game three in Los Angeles 5-2. A first period power play goal at 1:48 by the Kings in the fourth game, marked only the second time the Blues had trailed at any time during their first eight playoff games that year. St. Louis then responded with goals by Crisp, Berenson, Sabourin and Barclay Plager for a 4-1 triumph. St. Louis had swept both of its first two series. St. Louis fans actually confidently predicted the Blues could beat the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup. After all, the Blues had breezed to the finals while Montreal battled through a six-game playoff semifinal against Boston.
But when the final round began in Montreal, the well rested Blues quickly fell behind Canadiens 2-0 and eventually dropped game one, 3-1. It took a third period goal by Keenan midway through the final period to avert the shutout in the second game as Montreal once more claimed a 3-1 decision. Blues fans hoped for a better fate when play returned to St. Louis for game three, but a 4-0 smashing dismissed those thoughts as fantasies. The Blues, even at their very best, were no match for the best of the league's original six.
Terry Gray's second period goal gave St. Louis its only lead of the series in game four. The hard-nosed Blues held Montreal off the scoresheet for two periods, but Canadiens quickly tied it in the final stanza and at 3:03 John Ferguson's goal proved the difference as Montreal completed its own four game sweep and claimed the Stanley Cup for the second straight season with a 2-1 win. Despite the disappointment, Blues fans still rose and cheered lustily as their favorites left the ice. St. Louis had once more proven it was the best in the West and for 12 years, the 1968-'69 season was a standard by which all other Blues teams were measured.
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