Tonight, the St. Louis Blues will square off against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 1 of the National Hockey League’s Western Conference Semifinal. And if the Blues defeat the 2021-22 President’s Trophy winners, awarded to the team with the league’s highest points total, it will without question be the greatest St. Louis over Denver triumph in sports history.
The two cities have only faced each other in the postseason of any sport twice–in 2001, when the eventual Stanley Cup champion Avalanche triumphed in the Western Conference Final, and last year, when the Avalanche curbstomped the Blues in a four-game first-round sweep. Neither Cardinals franchise faced the Rockies/Broncos, the Blues never faced the Rockies (why yes, having the same nicknames for different teams in different sports is confusing!), and the Spirits never faced the Nuggets. At this point, the greatest St. Louis triumph over Denver, not counting the Nolan Arenado trade, would have to be the 2001 Blues’ double-overtime triumph in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, when Scott Young slipped in the game-winner and it was determined conclusively, once and for all, that Roman Turek was the superior goaltender to Patrick Roy. But beating the hated Ice Kroenkes with a chance to deflate what could very easily be a championship series? That would clearly take the cake.
By my count, there are 41 current Big Four sports markets which have, at some point in history, faced a team from St. Louis. In some cases, their histories are limited, but in other cases, there is a long history of St. Louis facing off against another city with major stakes involved. And below is a quick look at the Gateway City’s greatest triumph against each of them, ranked from the most to least populated Combined Statistical Areas (Census Metropolitan Areas for Canada).
New York-New Jersey: The history stopped a while ago, so it’s easy to forget that the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees have squared off in the World Series on five occasions, winning three. But #1 is certainly the 1926 World Series, the first for the Cardinals, which concluded in seven games with the Cardinals catching Babe Ruth trying to steal second base.
Los Angeles-Anaheim: Although the Cardinals needed six games to vanquish the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1985 NLCS, with a victory capped off by a dramatic Jack Clark home run, it is the game before which has gone down in history as the iconic Cardinals victory of the 1980s–the game which concluded with Ozzie Smith pumping his fist following his walk-off home run and which gave birth to Jack Buck’s iconic phrase “Go crazy, folks!”
Chicago: Despite their storied histories in baseball, the Cardinals and Cubs have only faced each other once in the postseason–tragically, no records exist of the 2015 NLDS, and therefore it is impossible to know who won (I assume the 100-win Cardinals must have been unstoppable, but I don’t know that). But a few months later, the St. Louis Blues had a major breakthrough with a seven-game victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions coming off three titles in six seasons. It is not the only Blues triumph over Chicago in the postseason, but it was the time that they beat the Blackhawks, a burgeoning dynasty, near the peak of their powers, and while the Blues have won seven Stanley Cup Playoffs rounds since that 2016 victory, the Blackhawks have won none.
Washington-Baltimore: It’s strange that Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS will go down in history as The Pete Kozma Game, given that, really, the Daniel Descalso game-tying hit one batter earlier in the top of the ninth inning was the more immediately necessary hit. But regardless, the Cardinals’ sensational comeback from a seemingly insurmountable 6-0 deficit will live on as a victory as improbable as any in the Cardinals’ early-2010s run.
San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland: While the St. Louis Rams had some meaningful victories over the San Francisco 49ers in their quest to emerge from mediocrity in the late 1990s and the St. Louis Cardinals notched an NLCS victory over them in 1987, from a franchise perspective, the most significant St. Louis triumph came in 2019, when the St. Louis Blues clinched their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in forty-nine years by disposing of the San Jose Sharks in six games. After the Blues’ controversial Game 3 overtime loss, it would have been easy to expect the team to fold, but instead they rattled off three consecutive victories, including dominant wins in Games 5 and 6 to face the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
Boston: Speaking of which, while the Cardinals’ victories over the Boston Red Sox in the 1946 and 1967 World Series are significant, they were examples of an already-successful franchise adding to their totals. The Blues’ seven-game victory over the Boston Bruins, culminating with a dominant 4-1 victory in Boston for the final game of the series, changed the entire identity of the St. Louis Blues franchise, from perpetual also-rans to, for the first time in franchise history, champions.
Dallas: With all due respect to the Football Cardinals’ occasional triumphs over the hated Dallas Cowboys in the 1970s, and especially with due respect to Pat Maroon’s double-overtime Game 7 winner to eliminate the Dallas Stars from the 2019 playoffs, this one is pretty easy–the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series victory over the Texas Rangers stands alone. And while the Game 7 victory, of course, was essential, it was the David Freese (and Lance Berkman)-led heroics of Game 6 which will go down in the annals of St. Louis sports history.
Philadelphia: It’s a tough call between the 2011 NLDS victory, with Chris Carpenter outdueling Roy Halladay in Game 5, and the Rams’ 2002 NFC Championship Game victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, but ultimately, in a world where the Cardinals don’t or the Rams do win the title, I think it would be pretty hard not to the pick the game that got St. Louis into the Super Bowl, so I will have to err on the side of the Rams, led by Marshall Faulk’s dominant 159 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Houston: There’s a case to be made that the Albert Pujols Brad Lidge Train Track Bomb in 2005 was the great moment of catharsis, and certainly the moment was visceral beyond words, but the Cardinals’ ultimate triumph in the 2004 NLCS takes precedent. Game 7 was filled with highlights of its own, but the singular highlight of the series for St. Louis’s victory over the Houston Astros came via Jim Edmonds’s walk-off home run in Game 6.
Atlanta: It’s honestly a coinflip between 2012 and 2019, but sometimes, I just can’t help but go with the pure joy over drama. No infield fly rules were needed to assist the Cardinals’ Game 5 victory in 2019–just ten runs before the Atlanta Braves even got a chance to bat in the final game of the NLDS.
Miami: Unlike the preceding cities, St. Louis and Miami have never faced off in the postseason, so we are stuck looking at individual regular season moments. Thankfully, the then-Florida Marlins were happy to oblige on April 27, 2003, when the Cardinals won a positively chaotic game. The Cardinals expanded their two-run lead in the top of the ninth to five, but via three home runs, the Marlins clawed their way back to tie the game and force extra innings, after which the offenses suddenly ceased to exist. Ultimately, it was a Fernando Vina single in the top of the twentieth inning that put the Cardinals over the top and gave them an extremely memorable, grueling victory, all in a tidy six hour and seven minute package.
Toronto: On November 29, 2000, the St. Louis Blues made history after falling behind 5-0 to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre, but with a little over 15 minutes left in regulation, the Blues began a ferocious comeback. Alexander Khavanov tied the game 5-5 with 25 seconds remaining, and 18 seconds into overtime, Jochen Hecht scored the game-winner to give the Blues the biggest third period comeback victory in NHL history.
Detroit: There was a history of torment here for St. Louis, between the 1968 World Series and Steve Yzerman’s soul-crushing goal to eliminate the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 overtime in 1996, but the Cardinals got some revenge in 2006, besting the error-prone Detroit Tigers in five games, with Adam Wainwright’s series-clinching strikeout of Brandon Inge giving St. Louis its first World Series title in twenty-four years.
Montreal: The Blues faced the Canadiens in the postseason on three occasions and…were swept all three times. The pickings are slim, but in the context of the moment, the Cardinals’ season-ending series, in which they won three of four games, over the Montreal Expos in 1998 is the pick here. The results didn’t matter for postseason reasons, but Mark McGwire hit five home runs, starting at a point where he trailed Sammy Sosa in the season’s single-season home run race, in order to cement himself (for three years) as the all-time single-season home run king, with 70 total.
Seattle: The St. Louis Rams stumbled into the 2004-05 postseason with an 8-8 record, but they did manage a moment of glory in the Wild Card round, winning on the road against the Seattle Seahawks 27-20. With 2:11 left in the fourth quarter, the Rams took the lead via a Marc Bulger touchdown pass to Cam Cleeland, thus assuring the final postseason win, in the penultimate postseason game, for the St. Louis Rams.
Phoenix: There’s a very strong case to be made for 2002, when the Cardinals got revenge from 2001 via a Division Series sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks, but when in doubt, I choose the Game 7 overtime winner. This version came over the then-Phoenix Coyotes in 1999, when Pierre Turgeon tallied the game’s lone goal to deflate the crowd at America West Arena.
Minneapolis-St. Paul: There’s a case it happened last week, with the Blues besting a Minnesota Wild team with sincere, but my money is on the first postseason NFL game ever played in St. Louis, a 49-37 victory by the Rams over the Minnesota Vikings which was not as close as the score suggests. The game was defined by the Rams’ first offensive play of the first half–a 77 yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce–and the opening kickoff of the second half, returned 95 yards for a touchdown by Tony Horne.
San Diego: In just the second postseason appearance in San Diego Padres history, the team had home-field advantage in 1996 against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. But the Cardinals won three narrow games over five days to vanquish the Padres, including a dramatic Game 3 victory in San Diego in which Brian Jordan hit a two-run, go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth inning to cement victory for the Cardinals.
Tampa: In a rarity for the 1999 St. Louis Rams, the offense was stymied in the team’s NFC Championship Game appearance. But the defense held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in check, and when the Rams finally scored the game’s lone touchdown, with 4:44 remaining in the game via Ricky Proehl’s only touchdown reception of the season, it was enough, carrying the Rams to an 11-6 victory and St. Louis’s first Super Bowl appearance.
Cleveland: Given the whole essence of Cleveland sports, it’s a bit surprising that there isn’t a signature moment, short of the St. Louis Rams ripping off the premise of Major League for the last five years of their existence. But I’ll go with the Rams’ victory over the Cleveland Browns in 1999, which crystallized the team’s 6-0 start, with a 34-3 drubbing at the then-TWA Dome. Kurt Warner threw for three touchdowns, Marshall Faulk ran for 133 yards, and somehow Justin Watson ran for 69 yards.
Denver: Get back to me in a couple weeks.
Charlotte: Because the Carolina Panthers finished off the 2003-04 Rams in double overtime in the playoffs, I must look again into the regular season, but in a memorable game against their then-division rivals, the 1999 Rams clinched their first playoff appearance in St. Louis on December 5, 1999 in Carolina, with a 34-21 victory punctuated by a 53 yard interception returned for a touchdown by rookie cornerback Dre’ Bly.
Vancouver: Somewhat surprisingly, the Blues have never defeated the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs, but in 1995, they did manage to take the defending conference champion Canucks to the brink of first-round elimination. In a must-win Game 6 in Vancouver, the Blues throttled Vancouver 8-2, with both Brett Hull and Esa Tikkanen tallying a pair of goals and chasing off starter Kirk McLean before the third period.
Pittsburgh: The Pittsburgh Pirates made their first postseason in 21 years in 2013, and after they took a 2-1 NLDS lead over the Cardinals, they looked primed to make a legitimate World Series run. But the Cardinals ultimately rebounded to take the series, with a Michael Wacha no-hit bid leading the way in Game 4 and an Adam Wainwright complete game victory in Game 5 to cement victory for St. Louis.
San Antonio: There was a narrow window for St. Louis to face the San Antonio Spurs, but the Spirits of St. Louis had competitive games against the Spurs in the mid-1970s. The most dramatic of these games came on November 22, 1975, when Maurice Lucas, with 34 points and 23 rebounds, led the Spirits to a 124-122 overtime victory in San Antonio’s HemisFair Arena.
Columbus: At the heart of the Blues’ historic 2018-19 (well, 2019 really) turnaround was an eleven-game winning streak which helped pull the team from the basement of the National Hockey League to a legitimately entrenched playoff team, and one of the first steps along the way, win #2 of the streak, came in Columbus via a hard-fought, 4-2 victory, led by a goal and two assists from Vladimir Tarasenko and three assists from Brayden Schenn. It is worth remembering that the city of Columbus has appeared in seven postseason series ever, all in the opposite conference of the St. Louis team, before feeling too underwhelmed by this particular selection.
Kansas City: Kansas City obviously has the premier victory in the rivalry between the two cities via the 1985 World Series, but the city also thoroughly dominated St. Louis both on the football field and via inconsistent support of public funding on the state’s NFL teams. But post-1985, the Cardinals have held a clear edge over the Kansas City Royals, and this began in 1997, when the two teams faced off for the first time in the regular season. The teams split games one and two, but on August 31, 1997, at Kauffman Stadium, the Cardinals rebounded from a 3-0 deficit with a five-run flurry in the top of the seventh inning, with a string of singles including a go-ahead RBI one from 1985 holdover Willie McGee. The Cardinals held on and took their first series against the Royals.
Indianapolis: The St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts began their ascensions in 1999, giving their respective Midwestern cities hope for the first time in their respective franchise histories. In 2001, Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning squared off for the first time, and it was a bloodbath: the Rams won 42-17 at a packed Dome at America’s Center. The game was tied at 14 with 8:44 left in the second quarter when the Rams rattled off three unmatched touchdowns before halftime–Marshall Faulk scored four total touchdowns, three rushing and one receiving from Kurt Warner, one of Warner’s three touchdowns via the air.
Las Vegas: Because Las Vegas is a city defined by entitlement, their brief foray into professional sports has been extremely successful, but the Vegas Golden Knights have largely struggled against the St. Louis Blues. Despite the Blues getting off to a terrible start in the 2018-19 season and despite the Golden Knights being defending Western Conference champions, the Blues managed two victories in quick succession in November 2018–a 5-3 home victory on November 1 and a November 16 road victory with a 4-1 final, punctuated by two Ryan O’Reilly goals. I was lucky enough to attend this game along with tens of thousands of other Blues fans since the entire Las Vegas sports experiment is based on luring in idiot tourists such as myself.
Cincinnati: Somewhat surprisingly, the Cardinals have never played the Reds in the postseason, so I’m once again returning to the National Football League for this one–on October 3, 1999, the Rams went to Cincinnati with a 2-0 record, and it was not knowable whether the high-flying excellence of the season’s first two games could carry over on the road. As it turned out, the Rams won 38-10 in a game largely defined by slot wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim, who caught three touchdown passes and returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown.
Nashville: I attended a game against the Nashville Predators in the 2017 playoffs that they won to hold off elimination. That was pretty cool and was thus the clear pick for the top moment against a Nashville sports team. Just kidding.
Raleigh: While a St. Louis Blues/Carolina Hurricanes Stanley Cup Final is absolutely within the realm of possibility for 2022, the current choices are confined to regular season victories. Absent a super obvious pick, I will go with the Blues’ most recent victory over the Hurricanes, a 6-3 home triumph on February 4, 2020 that the Blues actually led 6-1 at one point. The Blues were led by two goals apiece from Brayden Schenn and Zach Sanford.
Milwaukee: There is a shockingly fruitful history here considering there is only one sport where a matchup has been possible (assuming Packers-playing-at-County-Stadium-for-some-reason-era matchups against the football Cardinals count as Green Bay) and the Milwaukee team has gone through long lulls of poor performance. The 2011 NLCS is, of course, a personal highlight for my generation, but the clear #1 is the Cardinals’ 1982 World Series victory over the Brewers. While the Cardinals trailed entering the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 7, a Keith Hernandez single tied the game and a subsequent George Hendrick one put the Cardinals up for good.
Jacksonville: I feel a real sense of solidarity with Jacksonville, the city that spent the aughts constantly being told by psychopaths about how they were going to lose their football team. But I also, you know, liked when my favorite team beat them. And in 2005, a season which ended with a mediocre 6-10 record but was coming off five postseason appearances in six seasons, the St. Louis Rams got to an even 4-4 record following an October 30 tilt with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Aside from a Jeff Wilkins field goal, every Rams score in the 24-21 victory feels like a true Remember Some Guys Hall of Fame submission. A 29 yard blocked punt return by Brandon Chillar(!!!). An 83 yard touchdown reception by Kevin Curtis. And finally, in the game’s final score, a Steven Jackson touchdown reception on a pass thrown by…Jamie Martin!
New Orleans: In what was tied for the biggest blowout victory of the 1999 St. Louis Rams season, the Rams pummeled Mike Ditka’s Saints team 43-12. The Rams did briefly trail 9-7 and only led by three at halftime, but they turned on the afterburners on this November 28 tilt at the TWA Dome, scoring 28 points in the second half, with three rushing touchdowns from three different running backs–Marshall Faulk, Robert Holcombe, and James Hodgins.
Ottawa: The Ottawa Senators have been so sparingly good that a regular season triumph over one of their good teams certainly qualifies. On February 7, 2017, the Blues throttled Ottawa 6-0 on the road, against a Senators team that would eventually make it to Game 7 overtime of the Eastern Conference Finals. While the game was 0-0 at first intermission, the Blues made up for lost time, with Vladimir Tarasenko notching two goals and Jake Allen pitching a 30-save shutout.
Calgary: Although the Blues would eventually lose the series, their most memorable non-2019 victory in franchise history came against the Calgary Flames on May 12, 1986, in a game known today as “the Monday Night Miracle”. The Blues trailed 5-2 with 12 minutes remaining in the third period, but a Brian Sutter goal followed by a pair of Greg Paslawski goals within the final five minutes equalized the game. And in overtime, a Doug Wickenheiser goal cemented the unlikely victory for the Blues over the heavily favored Calgary Flames at a raucous St. Louis Arena.
Edmonton: Yet another example of “let’s just give it a few weeks”, the Blues and Oilers have never played in the playoffs. But given how impressive the 1980s Oilers dynasty was, little victories in the regular season were enough to create lifelong memories for St. Louis sports fans. And against the absolutely godly eventual Stanley Cup champions, the 1983-84 Oilers, the Blues put up a dominant victory, a 7-1 win in Edmonton on March 24, 1984. While Wayne Gretzky, per Canadian law, scored a goal, the Blues’ Bernie Federko scored three, proving once and for all who the greatest center of the 1980s was.
Buffalo: While the Blues had no business even being moderately competitive against the 1975-76 Buffalo Sabres in the NHL’s postseason Preliminary Round, they scored a big win in the first game of the three-game set. The big star for the Blues was Chuck Lefley, who scored a pair of goals and an assist.
Winnipeg: In what very briefly seemed like it would be the greatest moment of triumph of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff run, the Blues tore the absolute hearts out of the Winnipeg Jets in Game 5 of their first-round matchup. In a series tied at two, the Blues trailed 2-0 entering the third period, but a rapid flurry of goals, capped off by a Jaden Schwartz goal with 15 seconds remaining in regulation, silenced the crowd at Bell MTS Place.
Green Bay: While the Rams were eleven-point favorites in their NFC Divisional Round matchup against the Green Bay Packers on January 20, 2002, nothing could prepare the Packers for what was about to hit them. The Rams won 45-17, and while Rams quarterback Kurt Warner threw for two touchdown passes, Packers quarterback Brett Favre threw for five–unfortunately, only two of those were to Green Bay Packers players, while Tommy Polley and Aeneas Williams (twice) got the opportunities to pick-six the Hall of Famer into oblivion.