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Binnington buoyed by preparation, confidence for Blues in Cup Final

Work with mentor while climbing through minors key to reaching NHL, rebounding in Game 2 against Bruins

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

BOSTON -- "Confidence comes from preparation." That is the key to the story of St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington. The only question is who said it first. Binnington? Or his mentor, Andy Chiodo?

Chiodo read an article that quoted Binnington saying that, and they talked about it in one of their phone conversations.

 

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"I go, 'Thanks. I'm using that,' " Chiodo said. "He's like, 'What? You're the one who told me that.' I was like, 'All right.' It was funny. I guess I forgot saying that.

"But that is a big belief of ours. We believe in extreme preparation. We believe your confidence is derived from how much preparation you've done, that you've done things the right way. And I think also what comes from that is peace of mind."

That explains how Binnington came up from the minors and helped the Blues go from last place in the NHL on Jan. 3 to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, how he helped them make the Cup Final for the first time since 1970, and how he reacted after they lost Game 1 to the Boston Bruins 4-2 at TD Garden on Monday.

"It's not always going to be perfect," he said. "It's Game 1. It's a seven-game series. We're going to regroup and come back at 'em."

Binnington stopped 34 of 37 shots in Game 1, in which the Bruins dominated the second and third periods. He's 5-2 with a 1.84 goals-against average and .937 save percentage after a loss in the playoffs. Game 2 is at TD Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Video: Evaluating Binnington's performance in Game 1 loss

"Obviously he's shown in so many of these games that he's in a really good place," Chiodo said. "His game's in a good place, and he has a big belief in himself and his teammates, for sure. He believes in his team too."

Like a lot of overnight sensations, Binnington actually didn't materialize overnight.

He was a third-round pick (No. 87) in the 2011 NHL Draft. In his last season of junior hockey, he went 32-12-6 with a 2.17 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage for Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League in 2012-13.

Naturally, he had athletic ability and a calm demeanor. But he had to learn how to be elite.

Binnington started working with trainer Matt Nichol and met Chiodo at the gym in Toronto in the summer of 2016. Binnington had played one game for the Blues in 2015-16 but otherwise spent three seasons in the minors. Chiodo had played eight games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003-04 but otherwise spent 13 seasons in the minors and in Europe. They hit it off and trained alongside each other.

"What I was most impressed with was his talent and how raw I felt he was, and how I saw if he could put certain puzzle pieces together, he had absolute potential to be an NHL No. 1," Chiodo said.

Binnington and Chiodo stayed in touch in 2016-17, while Binnington played for Chicago of the American Hockey League and Chiodo played in Austria. Chiodo retired and started working with Binnington as a goalie coach in Nichol's program in the summer of 2017.

"I realized a couple years ago, I was in a situation where my back was against the wall, and I've got to handle it right," Binnington said. "And I kind of just had this belief and hunger in myself to be the best I can be and make the most of my talent."

Chiodo said they made simple technical adjustments to Binnington's reads and positioning, giving him a foundation that allowed other parts of his game to flourish. But the bulk of the work was building a lifestyle conducive to being the best pro he could be, from nutrition to fitness to skills to mindset. Binnington was surrounded by a top-notch support system and top-notch NHL players.

Video: STL@BOS, Gm1: Binnington stones Marchand's backhand

"I think it was just raising his standard, raising his bar," Chiodo said. "That's in his preparation. It's just the way he handled himself every day. I think that was even socially, picking his spots, making the necessary sacrifices he needed to make to just be the player he wanted to be.

"That first summer was great. I mean, it was powerful. We knew something special was going on."

That's why it was hard to swallow when the Blues considered him a fourth-stringer in 2017-18. They didn't have a spot for him in the AHL because they were sharing an affiliation and ended up sending out a memo asking if anyone needed a goalie. He reported to Providence, the AHL affiliate of, of all teams, the Bruins.

Despite the circumstances, his goals-against average dropped from 2.71 to 2.05 from season to season, and his save percentage popped from .911 to .926.

"What he knew, and I guess we knew, was that his game was in an awesome place, and he was about to have an awesome season," Chiodo said. "And he did."

The Penguins hired Chiodo as a goaltending development coach on June 20, 2018. But he and Binnington kept working together.

The Blues sent Binnington to San Antonio of the AHL to start this season. He went 11-4-0 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, then came up to St. Louis and went 24-5-1 with a 1.89 GAA and .927 save percentage. He's 12-8 with a 2.40 GAA and .915 save percentage in the playoffs.

Chiodo raved about Binnington's resilience and character.

"I would say his mental strength and mental makeup is at a completely different place than it was," Chiodo said. "I would say his belief in himself is in a completely different place than it was. His strength and mobility [have improved]. His on-ice game, there's a couple things that he feels much more confident about. 

"So it's just, he upped his level. He upped the standard in five or six different areas. They all kind of culminated together to help him play at a high level for what's been really two full seasons now.

"It gives me chills thinking about where he's come."

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