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 about the most important position in the playoffs and a lot about the men who play it and those trying to score goals against them. So NHL.com asked him to share his insights during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In his most recent column, McKenna talks about what he saw in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Monday, particularly the play of Blues goalie Jordan Binnington during a 4-2 loss. Boston leads the best-of-7 series 1-0.
[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]
When the shots are 38-20, the outcome of a hockey game is usually a foregone conclusion. Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday was no exception, with the score mirroring the shot count.
The Blues were lucky the score wasn't worse. They spent far too much time in the penalty box, taking five minors to two for the Bruins, and were forced to rely too heavily on Jordan Binnington, who made several critical saves to keep the game at 3-2 until an empty netter from forward Brad Marchand iced it for the Bruins.
Things started off much differently for the Blues.
An early goal from Brayden Schenn caught Boston goalie Tuukka Rask looking casual. As the play developed, Rask dropped to his knees long before the shot was taken, then attempted to make the save from an awkward half-butterfly stance. For those ascribing to the theory that the 10-day break between games for the Bruins would leave Rask rusty, this type of goal is ammunition. When Vladimir Tarasenko scored early into the second period, it instantly kicked the Rask doubters into hyperdrive, regardless of the fact that Rask didn't have much of a chance on the goal.
From that point forward, the Bruins took control of the game.
Their first goal was a great example of how to freeze a goaltender. Fourth-line forward Sean Kuraly drove wide and suddenly stepped on the brakes, Binnington was forced to stop his backward momentum and honor the potential of a shot. All it took to score was a deceptive back-door pass to defensemen Connor Clifton, who managed to deflect the puck into the net despite having a Blues defenseman draped over him.
Video: STL@BOS, Gm1: Clifton puts Bruins on the board
A little more than 10 minutes later, defenseman Charlie McAvoy scored a power-play goal to make it 2-2. Casual observers might consider the goal a weak shot attempt. However, if you pay close attention to the replay, you can see the stick of Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo contact McAvoy's stick right before the shot was released. It was a lot like the goal by Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks against Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round. And just like that goal, the puck's intended high trajectory was altered here, shifting its eventual location to right above Binnington's pad on the glove side. Goaltenders know how difficult it is to contend with a shot like this. To dismiss it as a weak goal would be shortsighted given the extraneous factors involved.
If Binnington has any frustration with the goals against in Game 1, it would most likely be the third goal. Long before the puck went in, Binnington elected to stand up and take a point shot from defensemen Zdeno Chara in the chest, which was the right decision given the scenario. But all went awry when the puck skittered away, allowing a second chance against before Kuraly took a pass from Noel Acciari and deposited the puck in the net.
Video: STL@BOS, Gm1: Kuraly puts Bruins ahead in 3rd
While Binnington was holding the Blues in the game, Rask might as well have been knitting a winter cap at the other end of the rink. Shots in the second period were so dramatically in favor of the Bruins (18-3) that one had to wonder how Rask would react once the Blues turned things around and started to apply pressure.
It's a tough spot for a goaltender to be inactive like that. Although you're happy your team is dominating, there's also the thought in the back of your head that you haven't faced many shots and haven't been able to find any kind of rhythm. Your worst fear is a breakaway or odd-man rush bearing down on you, especially when the game is tied 2-2, like it was in Game 1. A goal against in that scenario can be a major momentum swing.
Thankfully for Rask, he had little cause for concern. Save for a few quick offensive outbursts by the Blues, the Bruins remained in full control of the game and erased many of the questions surrounding their 10-day break.
Before the Cup Final began, I felt the Blues were much more goalie-dependent than the Bruins. In Game 1, that narrative rang true.
The Blues did show some fight with the clock winding down, but they've got to turn things around quickly or they'll be facing a 2-0 hole going home to St. Louis.