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Conference Final

Binnington had head start to success with Blues, set for Sharks in Game 3

Goalie instincts came naturally to rookie looking to take lead in Western Final

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

SAN JOSE -- Jordan Binnington's goaltending legacy began when a puck smacked him in the head.

The St. Louis Blues goalie was 8 years old and was trying out for the Vaughan Rangers of the Greater Toronto Hockey League. Coach Mike Vallescuro needed a goalie and had heard of a kid who'd just started trying the position in a 3-on-3 summer league at York University in Toronto.

 

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"The first shot he faced in his first tryout with us nailed him right in the noggin," Vallescuro said in a phone interview Tuesday. "He didn't even flinch. It was funny.

"That's when I knew this kid was made for the position. That's the moment it all started."

Almost two decades later, Binnington is still creating moments.

The Blues rookie made 24 saves in a 4-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final at SAP Center on Monday.

The best-of-7 series is tied heading into Game 3 at Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN360, TVAS).

Video: Binnington makes 24 saves in Blues' Game 2 victory

The victory lifted Binnington's Stanley Cup Playoff record to 9-6 with a 2.54 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. Those stats follow a rookie season when he went 24-5-1 with an NHL-leading 1.89 GAA and .927 save percentage.

While others might view it as one of the Cinderella stories of the NHL season, Vallescuro isn't surprised at the success Binnington is enjoying. He coached Binnington from ages 8-15, first with the Rangers, then with the AAA Vaughan Kings.

"He feels it," Vallescuro said. "He smells it. I think he knows it. It's one game at a time with him. It's one moment at a time with him. And I think he's enjoying it too.

"Nothing fazes him. He lets in a goal, whatever, it's the next thing that matters. When he left for junior hockey, I remember having a talk with him. I used to tell him, 'When you go to the pro level it's all about winning. The only thing that matters is letting in one less goal than the other guy. If the other guy's pitching a shutout, you have to pitch a shutout.' I think you really see that when the game's tied. He's that type of kid. Just win the game, not as many saves as you make."

Binnington's composure was on display when Sharks forward Logan Couture scored twice in the second period to tie the game 2-2 on Monday. Instead of being influenced by the raucous crowd, the calm and cool kid from the Toronto-area community of Richmond Hill just took it all in.

"The rink just blew up so it was pretty cool to see … it's a cool barn to play in. It's loud. It's exciting," Binnington said after the game.

No intimidation factor here.

"He's always been able to control his emotions like that," John Binnington, Jordan's father, said in a phone interview Tuesday. "He's worked hard to get to this point. He's come a long way."

Video: STL@SJS, Gm2: Binnington stones Goodrow on the rush

All the way from that first tryout when he was hit in the head.

"The second that happened, Coach Mike came over to me that day and said: 'Yeah, he can definitely do this,'" John Binnington said.  

"The interesting thing was, I always had him play forward to that point. because I thought it would make him a better skater. But when the goalie in that 3-on-3 league couldn't make it one day, we got some equipment from the arena counter and he tried it. Coach Mike heard people saying the kid looked like a natural and got me to agree to let him try out."

The rest is history. Now Binnington is trying to make some of his own by helping the Blues win their first Stanley Cup.

"Don't let his calm demeanor fool you either," Vallescuro said. "He's all about winning. He's as competitive as they come.

"No one wants to win this thing more than him. That's why he was so calm after St. Louis beat Dallas in double overtime of Game 7 in the second round. He knows there is more to do, and he's ready to do it."

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