Jordan Binnington began this season as the fourth goalie in the St. Louis Blues system. He's trying to end it as a Stanley Cup champion.
Binnington's performance since taking over as starter in January has propelled the Blues into the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins, their first trip to the championship round in 49 years. Fans get an inside look at Binnington on and off the ice in the sixth installment of "Quest For The Stanley Cup," which is available exclusively on ESPN+ in the United States and YouTube.com/NHL in Canada and provides an inside look at the players and coaches from the remaining two teams in this year's playoffs.
"[For the] last couple of years I've just been trying to prepare for any opportunity that comes my way, stay positive, and thankfully the opportunity came in January," the 25-year-old says. "I'm just trying to be part of the solution with this organization, give the team a chance to win and make a statement for myself. You've got to be good every day, and I think that comes into play in life and especially in the NHL."
But girlfriend Cristine Prosperi helps him keep things in perspective -- like a couple of young fans yelling "we love you" … "you've been amazing" as their car drives by.
Video: Quest For The Stanley Cup: Berube at a Cardinals game
"She makes me kind of appreciate where I am, the situation we're in," he says. "Obviously being a Stanley Cup finalist, it's a big deal. My mind just keeps looking forward, but at the same time I do try to live in the moment."
Binnington's stunning success comes to a sudden halt in Game 3 of the Final. After the Blues win Game 2 in overtime to come home even in the best-of-7 series, they pay the price for giving the Bruins too many power-play chances. Binnington is pulled in the second period after allowing the first five goals in a 7-2 loss.
Though most of the crowd at Enterprise Center goes home disappointed, two longtime Bruins fans do not. But the fact that Justin and Shana Garrels are even able to attend is something of a miracle. A motorcycle accident in September left Justin with more than 30 broken bones, and he spent 26 days in the intensive care unit.
"He ended up having four strokes and a brain contusion," Shana says. "He was in a coma. I said, "When you wake up, if they make it to the finals, we're going to go. But you have to wake up."
He did, and after a lengthy rehab period that helped him shed his wheelchair and walk with the aid of a cane, Justin and Shana get a special treat after Boston's practice at Enterprise Center on the off-day between Games 3 and 4: a greeting from goalie Tuukka Rask, followed by a visit to the locker room for handshakes, hugs and pictures.
Video: Quest For The Stanley Cup: B's locker room during Gm3
"It's so incredible," an awestruck Justin says. "You guys have all made my dreams come true today. Thank you so much."
Meanwhile, Blues coach Craig Berube spends part of his off-day taking his mind away from hockey by attending the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium.
Berube, who says the emotion of playing a home game in the Cup Final for the first time since 1970 got to his team in Game 3, has his team ready to go for Game 4. Center Ryan O'Reilly puts the Blues ahead by scoring 43 seconds into the game, then gets the game-winner midway through the third period of a series-tying 4-2 win.
"They were a desperate team and I guess they were just a little more desperate than we were today," Rask says. "They were that much better."
Through four games, each team has had its spurts of being better than the other. But those spurts haven't lasted long enough for either team to take control, leaving each needing to win twice in the final three games to go home with the hardest trophy in sports to win.