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Stanley Cup Final

Binnington difference in Game 5 of Cup Final, McKenna says

Blues goalie outduels Rask of Bruins to put St. Louis on cusp of first championship

by Mike McKenna / Special to

Mike McKenna has been a professional goalie for the past 14 seasons and has played for seven NHL teams and 13 minor league teams. Most recently, he played in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, playing one NHL game with them this season. He also played 10 games with the Ottawa Senators in 2018-19.  

He knows a lot about the most important position in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the men who play it, and those trying to score goals against them. So asked him to share his insights during the postseason.

In his most recent column, McKenna breaks down Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, a 2-1 victory by the St. Louis Blues against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Thursday that gave the Blues the lead in the best-of-7 series. McKenna was struck by the battle between goalies Jordan Binnington of St. Louis and Tuukka Rask of Boston. 


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Judging by the shots on goal in Game 5, 39-21 in favor of the Boston Bruins, you'd think it was utter domination in the Bruins' favor, not a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues that put Boston on the brink of losing the series and St. Louis one win away from its first Stanley Cup championship.

Surely, Jordan Binnington had to have stolen the game for the Blues, keeping the score from getting out of hand, right? That is what the numbers suggest.

Well, maybe not.

Binnington was very good, and certainly was a huge factor in the victory. But Tuukka Rask was also up to the task for the Bruins, with the two goalies trading save for save as the game advanced.

Maybe it's just the way I see things as a goalie. Or maybe it's because I consciously decided not to keep track of scoring chances in an effort to judge the game by feel rather than statistics. I could be naïve, but to me, this was a hockey game that featured two goalies playing confident, assertive hockey at the most important time of the season.

It was a game either team could have won.

Video: Binnington on Game 5, Bruins strong first period

For Binnington, his brilliance was on display from the start. Forcing your goalie to make 17 saves in the first period isn't ideal, but Binnington held strong and got his team into the second period without any damage. That's a big ask on the road; you're playing in a visiting building where the home team can seize momentum in an instant. It's vital to get out of the first period still having a chance to win.

Yes, Binnington probably did face more chances than Rask. But when St. Louis had the opportunity to score, Rask made several 10-bell saves to keep his team in the game; none bigger than on a breakaway by forward Vladimir Tarasenko at 12:23 of the third period to keep the game at 2-0.

Boston forward Jake DeBrusk scored 1:09 later to make it 2-1.

It was the save a team needs at a critical time to stay alive, and though the Bruins weren't able to complete the comeback, it kept them in the game until the final buzzer.

Each goalie also got some help from their friends. At one point, Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo had Rask so far out of position, Boston center David Krejci was forced to slide through the crease and make a dramatic save.

At the other end, Binnington had a seemingly harmless point shot trickle through his pads and land behind him in the crease, only to have defenseman Carl Gunnarsson swat it to safety.

And in true playoff fashion, players from each team sacrificed their bodies; each team had 15 blocked shots. With the stakes this high, players are willing to lay it all on the line, and goalies appreciate it; they are the ones wearing the big pads meant to stop the puck, yet there are our teammates, being warriors in front of us. That sense of team and togetherness is a big part of what makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs so special.

Video: STL@BOS, Gm5: Binnington gets help for huge late save

The passion on the ice in Game 5 was undeniable, and it extended to each goalie.

Rask's movements were crisp, his compete level high. He made wise decisions with his save selections and managed to keep rebounds to a minimum, a change from Game 4, when he struggled at times to keep the puck under control in front of him.

He couldn't be faulted very much for either goal. When Blues center Ryan O'Reilly picks up a puck on his forehand and goes to his backhand in the blink of the eye, it's hard to keep up laterally across the crease. It becomes even harder when the shot is elevated. The second goal, from forward David Perron, came on an intended pass on a broken play and, unfortunately for Rask, the puck ended up banking in off his pad.

But once again, the story of the game was Binnington. He made several key saves late in the third period, batting pucks away from trouble and fighting through traffic to get in front of tip opportunities. Sure, he was a little late on arrival on DeBrusk's goal; Binnington's feet weren't set before the shot came, and his momentum carried him slightly past the optimum angle.

But why split hairs? This guy has carried St. Louis to the verge of winning its first championship. He has responded every time adversity has hit, and his teammates believe in him. It's truly remarkable to see a rookie goalie -- who didn't make his first NHL start until Jan. 7 -- on the cusp of one of the most unexpected championships in League history.

That's where we are now. Game 6 is at Enterprise Center on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS). And if Game 5 was any indicator, we're in for quite a ride.

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