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Blues legend Bob Plager hopes team can win Cup for long-suffering fans who say to him 'before I die ...'

- Reuters

ST. LOUIS — Surely, never before had the names Carl Gunnarsson and Bobby Orr been mentioned in the same breath.

Now the veteran St. Louis Blues defenseman — who last season scored a career high five goals — and the greatest player of all-time indeed have a couple of things in common.

“The number four,” the legendary Bob Plager pointed out late Wednesday night, referring to their respective jerseys, “and a winning goal, in this building, in overtime.”

Not quite. Orr’s iconic, Cup winning goal on May 10, 1970 against the Blues was actually scored at the old Boston Garden. Its northern most wall was nine inches from TD Garden, where Gunnarsson became an unlikely St. Louis hero Wednesday night.

In a conversation with Blues coach Craig Berube while both men stood at urinals after the third period, the 32-year-old veteran said he needed “just one more chance” after hitting a post as regulation time wound down. He remained true to his word at 3:51 of playing time later.

The goal was the first for Gunnarsson in 57 playoff games. More importantly, it gave the Blues their first Cup final win in 13 tries, evening their series with the Bruins at a game apiece.

They were swept in all three final appearances from 1968-70 — the last time by Orr and the big, bad B’s.

Plager was a hard-hitting defenceman from Kirkland Lake, Ont. who was with the Blues for the first 11 years of the franchise’s existence. He was good enough to have his No. 5 retired in 2017.

Not only did he watch Orr’s goal from the Blues bench that afternoon 49 years ago, but his brothers Barclay and Bill were his teammates.

“The three times we were there, we were the luckiest, happiest guys in the world,” Plager said, meaning the Blues and the Cup final. “We were an expansion team, and we’re playing the great Montreal Canadiens. We weren’t expected to win. And maybe win a game. And then the Boston Bruins, with what they had, our team, an expansion, wasn’t expected to win the Stanley Cup.

“Now it’s a little different.”

Now it’s a lot different. Now Plager is a 76-year-old ambassador with the Blues. He was nervously pacing around the press level when overtime started Wednesday. He heard a noise, not loud enough to be a goal for the homeside but one that indicated something had happened. Maybe another just-missed chance by the Blues, he thought.

“I got to see the TV,” he said. “It was on the 10-second delay, so it was like watching it live.”

It once again made him think of Orr, and “The Goal” that ended his last chance at a Cup. But this whole week was a trip down memory lane, with the Blues in Boston, battling for a championship.

“The city has changed, but you see the (Orr) statue outside,” he said. “I went in to see (former Bruins captain) Johnny Bucyk. Johnny and I were very close and have been for a long time. To see Johnny here was great.

“And when you walk by and look at pictures (on the walls). I’m probably the only one who can look at all those pictures when they are celebrating at the end and know the players, know the night they’re celebrating and what happened.”

Like most of the players, Plager was happy the winning goal came from Gunnarsson, a team player and a popular guy in the St. Louis room.

“Carl Gunnarsson is a player you don’t hear much of, but he’s out there (four minutes into OT and he’s very dependable,” said Plager. “You can play him with any player. If you’ve got an an offensive guy you put him with him, because he’s a defensive, stay-at-home guy. He doesn’t hurt you. You can play him and he’ll never hurt you. And he’ll play and he’ll help out the other guys, because he’s playing defence, let them go.

“Tonight he was rewarded, for what he does.”

Now, Plager hopes, it’s time for the people of St. Louis to be rewarded. The Blues and the Maple Leafs have endured the longest Stanley Cup droughts — 51 years. He’d like nothing more than for the counting to stop in Missouri.

The Bruins have played in front of loud crowds in the playoffs. In Toronto, Columbus, and Carolina. But two of those two teams have won Cups, and the third is only 20 years old.

There should be a different level of desperation heard from the faithful for Game 3 at the Enterprise Center on Saturday. Especially now that the Blues have a win in the final under their belt — and a very realistic chance of finally getting their hands on Lord Stanley’s mug.

“This is so big,” said Plager. “What’s been going on for the last month and all that, just when we made the playoffs, it’s a win. We’ve been underdogs in every series. Winning on the road. Winning in the seventh game, and bringing a team back and winning in the sixth game. For that city, it’s going crazy.

“As much as I want to win, and it would be nice, it’s the city of St. Louis, it’s our fans.

“There are still fans, and a lot of people from the first years in St. Louis that go to the games, that I talk to, and they always say ‘before I die …’ So I hope we can do something for them. That’s what you want to win for.

“They’re pumped up, and so are we, and so am I.”

DBrennan@postmedia.com

Twitter: @SunDoniB


St. Louis Blues History

1967-68: 27-31-16, 70 points, third in the West, lost in Stanley Cup final, 4-0, to Montreal Canadiens

1968-69: 37-25-14, 88 points, first in West, lost in Stanley Cup final, 4-0, to Montreal Canadiens

1969-70: 37-27-12, 86 points, first in West, lost in Stanley Cup final, 4-0, to Boston Bruins

1970-71: 34-25-19, 87 points, second in West, lost in quarter-finals, 4-2, to Minnesota North Stars

1971-72: 28-39-11, 67 points, third in West, lost in semi-finals, 4-0, to Boston Bruins

1972-73: 32-34-12, 76 points, fourth in West, lost in quarter-finals, 4-1, to Chicago Blackhawks

1973-74: 26-40-12, 64 points, sixth in West, missed playoffs

1974-75: 35-31-14, 84 points, second in Smythe, lost in preliminary round, 2-0, to Pittsburgh Penguins

1975-76: 29-37-14, 72 points, third in Smythe, lost in preliminary round, 2-1, to Buffalo Sabres

1976-77: 32-39-9, 73 points, first in Smythe, lost in quarter-finals, 4-0, to Montreal Canadiens

1977-78: 20-47-13, 53 points, fourth in Smythe, missed playoffs

1978-79: 18-50-12, 48 points, third in Smythe, missed playoffs

1979-80: 34-34-12, 80 points, second in Smythe, lost in preliminary round, 3-0, to Chicago Blackhawks

1980-81: 45-18-17, 107 points, first in Smythe, lost in quarter-finals, 4-2, to Chicago Blackhawks

1981-82: 32-40-8, 72 points, third in Norris, lost in division finals, 4-2, to Chicago Blackhawks

1982-83: 25-40-15, 65 points, fourth in Norris, lost in division semi-finals, 3-1, to Chicago Blackhawks

1983-84: 32-41-7, 71 points, second in Norris, lost in division finals, 4-3, to Minnesota North Stars

1984-85: 37-31-12, 86 points, first in Norris, lost in division semi-finals, 3-0, to Minnesota North Stars

1985-86: 37-34-9, 83 points, third in Norris, lost in conference finals, 4-3, to Calgary Flames

1986-87: 32-33-15, 79 points, first in Norris, lost in division semi-finals, 4-2, to Toronto Maple Leafs

1987-88: 34-38-8, 76 points, second in Norris, lost in division finals, 4-1, to Detroit Red Wings

1988-89: 33-35-12, 78 points, second in Norris, list in division finals, 4-1, to Chicago Blackhawks

1989-90: 37-34-9, 83 points, second in Norris, lost in division finals, 4-3, to Chicago Blackhawks

1990-91: 47-22-11, 105 points, second in Norris, lost in division finals, 4-2, to Minnesota North Stars

1991-92: 36-33-11, 83 points, third in Norris, lost in division semi-finals, 4-2, to Chicago Blackhawks

1992-93: 37-36-11, 85 points, fourth in Norris, lost in division finals, 4-3, to Toronto Maple Leafs

1993-94: 40-33-11, 91 points, fourth in Central, lost in conference quarter-finals, 4-0, to Dallas Stars

1994-95: 28-15-5, 61 points, second in Central, lost conference quarter-finals, 4-3, to Vancouver Canucks

1995-96: 32-34-16, 80 points, fourth in Central, lost in conference semi-finals, 4-3, to Detroit Red Wings

1996-97: 36-35-11, 83 points, fourth in Central, lost in conference quarter-finals, 4-2, to Detroit Red Wings

1997-98: 45-29-8, 98 points, third in Central, lost in conference semi-finals, 4-2, to Detroit Red Wings

1998-99: 37-32-13, 87 points, second in Central, lost in conference semi-finals, 4-2, to Dallas Stars

1999-2000: 51-19-11-1, 114 points, first in Central, lost in conference quarter-finals, 4-3, to San Jose Sharks

2000-01: 43-22-12-5, 103 points, second in Central, lost in conference finals, 4-1, to Colorado Avalanche

2001-02: 43-27-8-4, 98 points, second in Central, lost in conference semi-finals, 4-1, to Detroit Red Wings

2002-03: 41-24-11-6, 99 points, second in Central, lost in conference quarter-finals, 4-3, to Vancouver Canucks

2003-04: 39-30-11-2, 91 points, second in Central, lost in conference quarter-finals, 4-1, to San Jose Sharks

2004-05: Season cancelled due to NHL lockout

2005-06: 21-46-15, 57 points, fifth in Central, missed playoffs

2006-07: 34-35-13, 81 points, third in Central, missed playoffs

2007-08: 33-36-13, 79 points, fifth in Central, missed playoffs

2008-09: 41-31-10, 92 points, third in Central, lost in conference quarter-finals, 4-0, to Vancouver Canucks

2009-10: 40-32-10, 90 points, fourth in Central, missed playoffs

2010-11: 38-33-11, 87 points, fourth in Central, missed playoffs

2011-12: 49-22-11, 109 points, first in Central, lost conference semi-finals, 4-0, to L.A. Kings

2012-13: 29-17-2, 60 points, second in Central, lost in conference quarter-finals, 4-2, to L.A. Kings

2013-14: 52-23-7, 111 points, second in Central, lost in first round, 4-2, to Chicago Blackhawks

2014-15: 51-24-7, 109 points, first in Central, lost in first round, 4-2, to Minnesota Wild

2015-16: 49-24-9, 107 points, second in Central, lost in conference finals, 4-2, to San Jose Sharks

2016-17: 46-29-7, 99 points, third in Central, lost in second round, 4-2, to Nashville Predators

2017-18: 44-32-6, 94 points, fifth in Central, missed playoffs

2018-19: 45-28-9, 99 points, third in Central …

 

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