Stanley Cup Final: The Blues refused to fail, and Jordan Binnington refused to let them
One last time, Jordan Binnington and the Blues showcased their championship resolve
BOSTON — Six months ago, nobody thought the St. Louis Blues would be Stanley Cup champions. That's because they were licking the basement floor as the league's worst team, looking like a massive disappointment after a promising offseason.
And six months ago, nobody thought Jordan Binnington would become the guy who would lead the Blues out of that cellar and into a remarkable second-half turnaround, because six months ago nobody even really knew who Jordan Binnington was. Not unless you're the kind of person who concerns themself with the comings and goings of a 25-year-old AHL goaltender with exactly one (1) game of NHL experience.
But six months later, here we are -- seeing the 2018-2019 NHL season coming to a close with the St. Louis Blues as remarkable Stanley Cup champions, and one Jordan Binnington as the catalyst that made it possible.
Binnington wasn't the best goalie in this Stanley Cup Final, but he was unquestionably the best goaltender when it truly mattered -- in Game 7 on Wednesday night in Boston. Binnington was the most devastating player on the ice as he made 32 saves in the Blues 4-1 Cup-clinching victory. The one goal he surrendered came late in the third period as the Blues led 4-0 and all but had their lips pressed to the trophy.
Most of Binnington's heavy lifting came in the opening 20 minutes, when the Bruins looked like the superior team by a significant margin. With a thunderous home crowd behind them, Boston peppered Binnington with shots, 12 of them in total. Binnington was giving up some hearty rebounds, but he was also turning everything away...sometimes in spectacular fashion.
The Bruins got half-a-dozen high-danger opportunities in that opening period. None of them resulted in a dent on the scoreboard. That kind of fruitless endeavor can be demoralizing.
Also demoralizing is allowing four shots in a period, with half of them ending up in the back of the net. That's what happened on the other end of the ice, where Tuukka Rask -- the Bruins' most valuable player throughout the entire postseason -- couldn't quite match Binnington's heroic efforts.
None of the goals Rask gave up were particularly his fault. His team let him down, and he wasn't able to save them. Meanwhile, had the Bruins scored on any single one of their juicy opportunities in the first period, it likely would have been a much different game. But Binnington saved his teammates in the first 20 minutes, and they rewarded him handsomely over the next 40 minutes.
After taking a stunning 2-0 lead into first intermission, the Blues went into lockdown mode. They played nearly flawless defensive hockey over the final two periods, not allowing the Bruins to find any breathing room or sustained opportunities. It felt like anytime a Boston player touched the puck there were three or four Blues players in the direct vicinity. It felt like two goals would be enough.
Ultimately, two goals were enough, but the Blues elected to score four anyway.
And so the Blues' season came to a close in perfectly fitting fashion: With a rough start followed by an increasingly furious and scrappy display, all of which you can argue was made possible by the guy in net.
Binnington's rookie campaign shoveled the coal into the furnace of the St. Louis success train. When he made his first start of the season on January 7th, the Blues were in last place. That first start resulted in a 25-save shutout and maybe...just maybe...it felt like maybe the Blues had found a glimmer of hope in net, a place they had rarely found hope over the past few years.
Little did anyone know how far that glimmer of hope would take a franchise that had been groomed to reject the idea of hope over the past 50-plus years.
But this Blues season can be best summed up by the word "resilience." St. Louis endured a horrific start to the season -- one that was bad enough to warrant their coach getting fired just a few months in -- and they scrapped their way back into relevance. Even when it seemed like the Blues might have their death warrant signed by unfathomable, unexplainable bad luck -- aka the missed hand pass that swung the Western Conference Final in the Sharks' favor -- they responded by ripping off three straight wins and punching their ticket to play for Lord Stanley.
And as the Blues relentlessly refused to fail, so too did Binnington. He quickly established a reputation of being an outstanding bounce-back goaltender, rarely showcasing two sub-par outings in a row. That trend continued throughout the playoffs, with eight of his wins occurring following a loss (8-2, 1.78 GAA, .937 SV%).
The final bounce-back effort came on Wednesday night, as Binnington rebounded from a pedestrian Game 6 loss -- a missed opportunity to put the Bruins away on home ice -- and delivered his most meaningful performance to-date.
Written in Boston on Wednesday was the final chapter of an incredible story of a team that couldn't be held down, led by an unlikely hero who refused to accept the idea that he might be the guy to let them down. And now we all know who Jordan Binnington is.
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