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Stanley Cup Final

Binnington calm, confident for Blues heading into Game 1 of Cup Final

Rookie goalie not overwhelmed by facing Bruins on hockey's biggest stage

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

BOSTON -- The reporters surrounded the podium, forming a semicircle more than 180 degrees, carrying cameras and recorders and notepads and pens. They were waiting for the best story of 2019 Stanley Cup Final Media Day on Sunday and perhaps the key figure of the best-of-7 series that starts at TD Garden on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington waded through the crowd and stepped up in front of a larger-than-life photo of the Stanley Cup. As he sat down at the microphone, he placed a cold bottle of water underneath the lectern. For all anyone knew, he had an IV running that ice water through his veins.

"How's this?" Binnington asked. "Good?"

 

[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Blues series coverage]

 

Think this stage is too big for Binnington, who started the season in the minors, has a grand total of 52 games of NHL experience and is living in a hotel in St. Louis? Think he's intimidated by the Boston Bruins, who are scoring 3.35 goals per game in the playoffs, or their goalie Tuukka Rask, who played in the Final in 2013, won the Vezina Trophy in 2014 and leads the playoffs in goals-against average (1.84) and save percentage (.942)?

Well, nothing has been too big for him yet. He has seized opportunities with a calm confidence. This is another one. 

"He's faced that type of adversity," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues captain. "You know the whole storyline of how he got here and never doubts himself, trusts his ability, trusts his work ethic. That's why he is where he is. That's why he's gotten where he is.

"It's obviously not a traditional route to get to this point, but it's not easy to get to where he is. I think the first three rounds only prepared him for this. And if you want to be successful, you want to kind of have that demeanor, you can't let things affect you. And nothing seems to bother him."

Video: Binnington on mindset heading into Cup Final

Binnington made his NHL debut on Jan. 14, 2016. After he allowed one goal on four shots in 12:47 in a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, a reporter asked him if he kept any mementos. He said he had scraped up some snow, but he was being sarcastic. To him, that would have been silly. He was after bigger things.

In 2017-18, the Blues considered him their fourth-string goalie and had nowhere to send him because they shared their American Hockey League affiliate. They sent out a memo asking if anyone needed a goalie. Binnington ended up in Providence, the affiliate of the Bruins, of all teams. He went 17-9-0 with a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

This season, he was sent to San Antonio of the AHL. He went 11-4-0 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. When the Blues were struggling midseason, he got the call for the first time since his debut. 

"You learn that confidence comes from preparation, and you've got to be prepared for anything that's thrown at you," Binnington said. "It's kind of the way I look at my life now and hockey specifically. So I think that's an important way to look at it. … You surround yourself with the right people and believe in yourself and have faith that things will come around and come your way. So just prepare for the moment or the opportunity that comes at you."

The Blues were last in the NHL standings the morning of Jan. 3. Binnington made his first start against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 7 and had a 25-save shutout in a 3-0 win.

Coach Craig Berube said Binnington's first regulation loss was the best indicator, though. Allowing four goals on 29 shots in a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Jan. 21 didn't faze him. Two nights later, he stopped 12 of 13 shots in a 5-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.

"I think we knew that he was pretty calm about things and just even-keeled all the time," Berube said. "It just didn't seem like anything really got to him, whether he let a couple bad goals in or whatever it was."

After he had a 19-save shutout in a 2-0 win against the Nashville Predators at Enterprise Center on Feb. 26, Binnington was asked if it was nerve-wracking playing close games.

Video: Binnington joins an elite group of NHL goaltenders

"Do I look nervous?" Binnington said.

"No," the reporter said.

"There's your answer," Binnington said.

That quote is now on T-shirts in St. Louis. 

"That quote's obviously funny, but it does sum up (everything)," Pietrangelo said. "Every day, he just shows up, does what he has to do and is pretty quiet. But I guess, for us, it's enjoyable when he says stuff like that, because we get a kick out of it."

Binnington is 25 years old. He spent 5 ½ seasons in the minors preparing for this opportunity. He finished the regular season 24-5-1 with a 1.89 goals-against average and .927 save percentage for the Blues, who climbed from last place in the League to third in the Central Division. Eventually he moved out of The Cheshire hotel into a more fitting place.

"I think I'd call it an extended stay," Binnington said.

Binnington's numbers haven't been as good in the playoffs. He's 12-7 with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. But in the first round, the Blues defeated the Winnipeg Jets, who had a former Vezina finalist in Connor Hellebuyck; in the second round, they defeated the Dallas Stars, who had a Vezina finalist in Ben Bishop; and in the Western Conference Final, they defeated the San Jose Sharks, who had Martin Jones on top of his game.

"It'd be disingenuous to say that this was all part of the master plan, bring him in in January and be here today," general manager Doug Armstrong said. "But what he did do is, he never quit on himself, and that's what I take away."

When the Blues sent Binnington to Providence as a fourth-stringer, Armstrong said: "He just said, 'OK, we'll see.' At the of the day, he went up here. He made the best of it. And so I would just say, what's the most impressive (part) for me is his belief in himself and how that's transferred to obviously where we are today."

Binnington said a couple of cousins have bought "Do I look nervous?" T-shirts, but he doesn't have one himself. Maybe he's waiting for another kind of souvenir.

"I love how people are having fun with it," Binnington said. "People think they know me and stuff. It's pretty cool to see. I'm enjoying this whole experience, and the season's been a lot of fun. At the same time, one more series to focus on. Then we can talk."

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