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Binnington, Blues were inspiration in winning Stanley Cup in 2019

Goalie's emergence, St. Louis' run from last place showed 'this can happen to anybody'

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

Go for it. Believe. In the NHL, that was the theme of 2019.

The St. Louis Blues were last in the League on Jan. 3. Goalie Jordan Binnington had played three NHL games and started zero. "Gloria" was a 1982 hit by the late Laura Branigan you might hear on an oldies station.

A group of St. Louis players watched an NFL playoff game at a private club in Philadelphia on Jan. 6, and a club member kept requesting the same song, shouting, "Play 'Gloria'!" Binnington made his first NHL start and 25 saves in a 3-0 shutout of the Philadelphia Flyers the next night.

Little more than six months later, the Blues won the Stanley Cup.

Not only did Binnington help lead the Blues to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he made 32 saves when they defeated the Boston Bruins 4-1 in Game 7 of the Final at TD Garden in Boston. "Gloria" was their victory anthem.

"There's storybook parts to this season," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said.

The moral of the story?

"Believe in yourself," Binnington said.

Video: STL@BOS, Gm7: Binnington dazzles in Game 7 victory

The Blues were an example, an inspiration. There is an NHL salary cap, and parity. Little separates most teams, especially in the playoffs.

"Honestly, I think this should give a renewed sense of, this can happen to anybody," said Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, whose team lost to the Blues in the Western Conference First Round. "It's such a fine, fine line. So I do think that the Blues winning is something that every market should relish and understand. Never give up on your team, and you know what? Anything can happen."

In the stands for Game 7 was Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, who grew up in the Boston area, had friends on the Bruins and a friend on the Blues: former teammate Ryan O'Reilly.

Eichel watched the clock count down, the Blues mob each other in the silent arena and O'Reilly raise the Cup.

"It was one of the cooler things I've ever seen," Eichel said.

 

[RELATED: Top storylines that shaped hockey in 2019]

 

St. Louis entered the NHL in 1967 and finally won the Cup for the first time in its 51st season. Eichel could only imagine what it would be like for Buffalo. The Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks entered the NHL in 1970 and are in their 49th season, having endured what are now the longest waits for a first championship.

"Of course you think about it, right?" he said. "You see the postgame celebrations, the fans, the crowd, everything like that, and you just want it that much more. That's the ultimate goal. That's why you play hockey. That's why you do everything you do, to try to do that."

Eichel is off to an excellent start in 2019-20, with 52 points (24 goals, 28 assists) in 39 games. The Sabres, who have gone eight seasons without making the playoffs, the longest drought in the League, are six points out of a playoff spot.

Get in, and who knows?

Video: BUF@TOR: Eichel wires wrister past Andersen

The Columbus Blue Jackets entered 2019 as the only NHL team that hadn't won a round in the playoffs. The question hanging over them was whether they would trade two of the best players in their history -- goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin -- or risk losing them for nothing as unrestricted free agents July 1.

Well, not only did they keep them, they added four more pending UFAs: forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, defenseman Adam McQuaid and goalie Keith Kinkaid.

They made the playoffs, and though they didn't win the Cup or sign the UFAs, they gave it their best shot and their fans a memorable run while they still had Bobrovsky and Panarin. They won a round for the first time in epic fashion, sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning, who ran away with the Presidents' Trophy as the top regular-season team with 128 points, 21 more than anyone else last season and the fourth-most in NHL history.

"I'd do it again," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said.

The Arizona Coyotes have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for seven seasons, the second-longest drought in the NHL. But they built a strong defensive team, added forward Phil Kessel and have a new owner, Alex Meruelo.

While in first place in the Pacific Division on Dec. 16, they acquired forward Taylor Hall in a trade with the New Jersey Devils, even though Hall is a pending UFA. They hope to make the playoffs, energize their fans and convince Hall that Arizona is the place to live and play.

"I think we're changing the narrative here," Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. "For a long time, it was about existential issues. We were trying to survive. And I think now everyone understands we're trying to thrive here. We're trying to be sustainable for the long term and contend for a Stanley Cup.

"Why not us?"

Why not carry the theme into 2020?

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