Welcome to the 2016 St. Louis Blues Bandwagon. You are now a proud member of a community that has known only woe and heartbreak since 1967. Do not let that dissuade you from riding this thing until the wheels fall off and our collective asses are ground down to bone on the hard tarmac of reality.
I apologize for that egregious sentence (and this one), but I'm drunk with delight at getting out of the first round of the playoffs. But while I may get fancy, I won't sugarcoat things: A first-round win does not mean the next round is a cake walk. The NHL's playoffs are part Bataan Death March, part sporting event. Winning the Stanley Cup requires skill, luck, team chemistry, confidence and a very full bandwagon.
Which is why we welcome you. The Blues are everything great about St. Louis. The team's past, like the city's past, is full of ugly mistakes, heartbreak and misery, but the future? The future is nothing but glorious possibility right now.
The next round of playoffs start tonight in Dallas. Let's get you up to speed.
The Blues are never going to be a sure thing. They went to the playoffs for 25 straight seasons (1980 to 2004) and always came up short. Other than their first two years in the NHL (when there were only twelve teams in the entire league), the Blues have only been to the conference finals twice. In 1986 they lost to Calgary in seven games, and in 2001 they lost to Colorado in seven games. It's not a record that inspires confidence, but the past doesn't matter. Right now they're the most dangerous team on the ice, a mix of young stars (Colton Parayko, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko) and canny veterans (Blackhawk-killin' Troy Brouwer, Alex Pietrangelo and David "Inglourious" Backes) who just knocked out the defending champs and got over a personal hump to do so. A weight, as they say, has been lifted.
These Blues don't mind the rough stuff. Some teams peak too early, some can't stop stepping on their own dicks, and some just aren't prepared for the brutality of playoff hockey. This edition of the Blues knows what the playoffs require: A physical game and ruthless intensity. Hits aren't officially measured by the NHL anymore, but the Blues are playing like ten hits can be traded in for a goal.
The forecheck — it's that thing where your team heads into the other team's end and bumps guys around until the good guys gain possession of the puck, the better to score with — is a Ken Hitchcock speciality. (He's the coach of the Blues. People claim he looks like Captain Kangaroo from certain angles, but I don't see it. Speaking of look-alikes, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman looks like Count von Count. Boo him loudly whenever you see him, on TV or in person.) The maneuver wears down your opponent physically and mentally. The Blues forechecked the 'Hawks into submission, generated goals and gave hope to a weary old man. If they keep forechecking like this, good things will happen.
What's the deal with Dallas? The Dallas Stars used to be the Minnesota North Stars, which is why they get to wear that sweet green sweater. Dallas is the No. 1 seed (which is bad), but the Blues beat them in four out of five games in the regular season (which is good). The Blues and the Stars have a long history of knocking each other out of the playoffs, so anything could happen.
But perhaps what's most interesting is the coaching match-up. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock won a Stanley Cup as the coach of the Stars in 1999, beating the Buffalo Sabres and their coach, Lindy Ruff — and Ruff now coaches the Stars. That championship was controversial, because Brett Hull's game-winning goal was scored while he was in the goalie's crease. Hitch and Hull are united again on the Blues (Hull's an executive VP), which gives us wild thoughts about the possibilities. Surely Hull won't lace them up and buzz either of the Stars' Finnish goalies, would he? Fuck it, he should. Hull should zip through the crease at the end of warm-ups just to freak Ruff out.
What's this I hear about bacon at the games? The Blues official Instagram feed fell prey to autocorrect back in November, when the Blues came from behind to beat the Blackhawks. What was supposed to be "roar back" became "roar bacon," which is so much better.
Fans have embraced the #RoarBacon hashtag, and you should too. These sorts of accidental rallying cries are the stuff that makes a good team feel like a team of destiny. The Cardinals had the rally squirrel, the Phillies won a World Series on the back of "why can't us?" and now the Blues are powered by #RoarBacon. It's a portentous feeling.
I wanna get a jersey before the game; who's should I get? Do you personally combine the flash of a sports car with the bulldozing power of a Russian tank? Vladimir Tarasenko is your man.
Are you the kind of guy who quietly does your job day in, day out, and is willing to get your hands dirty to succeed? Ryan Reaves it is.
Have you seen three potential replacements come along to take your job, but you're still here and better than ever? Go for Brian Elliot.
Do you love dogs, cats and timely goals equally? David Backes is your spirit animal.
Are you a youngster who has exceeded everyone's expectations in your first year on the job? Colton Parayko knows what you're going through.
What if the Blues lose? Be disappointed, but don't give up on them. Even in a lost cause, the Blues can thrill you. Back in '86, the Blues pulled off a backs-to-the-wall win against Calgary in game six of the conference finals. They then lost game seven and dispersed to play golf. But nobody talks about game seven — what we talk about is The Monday Night Miracle.
That's the beauty of hockey. Even when it breaks your heart, it can also fill it up.