ST. LOUIS – This time last year, Alex Pietrangelo and his wife, Jayne, were preparing to have triplets. Thanks to the fact that the St. Louis Blues finished one agonizing point out of the playoffs, he had already been off the ice for two months. One year later, though, those triplets are putting Pietrangelo’s ample playoff beard to unique use. “My kids love it,” said Pietrangelo of Evelyn, Oliver and Theodore, who were born last July. “They use it as leverage to stand up.”
Yes, it has been quite a year for Pietrangelo, the Blues captain and the person who will be the first St. Louis Blues player in history to hoist the Stanley Cup if the Blues can manage to win Game 6 Sunday night on home ice. In the last 12 months, Pietrangelo has become a father, was part of a team that was the worst in the NHL halfway through the season, dealt with speculation surrounding his long-term future in St. Louis and, finally, led his team through its remarkable playoff run. Regardless of what happens in Game 6, or Game 7 if necessary, it has been quite a year.
“I’ll look back on it when it’s done,” Pietrangelo said. “Just stay in the moment right now and sometimes it’s better because you stay in that little bubble. And when things calm down you have a chance to look back, but it has been a pretty special year for me, no doubt about that.”
Prior to the Blues catching fire, there was a time when many people were wondering whether Pietrangelo would be moved at the trade deadline. The Blues were struggling and with Pietrangelo one year away from unrestricted free agency with a manageable $6.5-million cap hit, the theory was that the Blues could have received a good bounty for him at the deadline, particularly since the team getting him would also have him under contract through next season.
But then the Blues started to win a lot of those close games they had been losing to that point. Much has been made of the 3-0 win in Philadelphia Jan. 7 and the subsequent Gloria phenomenon that ensued, but the Blues really got themselves back in the race when they ripped off an 11-game winning streak in late January and early February, with eight of those wins coming on the road. Pietrangelo points to a 1-0 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning to end a four-game road trip as the point where the Blues really started believing in themselves.
“To beat Tampa in Tampa on our dads’ trip, that was an emotional win for us,” Pietrangelo said. “Having your dads there and putting a game together like that was a big win for us and that really gave us a big boost. Then we played Nashville back-to-back in Saturday-Sunday afternoon games and we won both games. It’s tough to look at one or two specific things, but that whole situation when you go on those streaks sometimes it’s not going to be pretty. You just have to find ways to win and that’s what we did.”
The Blues then had a three-game road trip where they not only won games over Arizona, Colorado and Minnesota, they didn’t give up a goal. They went 12-1-1 in February and by the time the trade deadline came around Feb. 25, talk of trading Pietrangelo had completely dissipated. Now it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Blues extend Pietrangelo’s deal sometime after July 1. There was a silver lining to all those struggles for the Blues, and it has manifested itself in this playoff run. Who’s to say the Blues would be where they are now if they hadn’t gone though those trials at the beginning of the season?
“Overcoming adversity, whether it’s losing games or bad calls, whatever it is, it’s adversity,” Pietrangelo said. “What we went through early in the year, that was the hardest adversity we were going to go through. I guess it was good preparation for what we had to deal with coming into the playoffs.”
And now the Blues find themselves one victory away from winning the Stanley Cup. Both the team and their captain have gone through their fair share of adversity, and both have come out of it better on the other side.
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