While much of the focus on the Western Conference's wild card race has focused on the teams that have been unable to pull away, credit the St. Louis Blues for taking advantage.
As recently as Jan. 1, the Blues were 10 points out of a playoff berth. A 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, however, moved St. Louis into the second wild card slot, two points back of the Wild for the top spot -- although St. Louis also has two games in hand.
Once believed to be sellers ahead of the upcoming trade deadline later this month, it's quite possible now the Blues could be buyers.
St. Louis was one of the winners of the offseason, solidifying its depth down the middle by trading for Ryan O'Reilly from Buffalo and signing Tyler Bozak away from Toronto. O'Reilly has had an All-Star campaign, but it didn't much matter for the Blues because of the below average goaltending they were getting for the first three months of the season.
Enter rookie Jordan Binnington.
A third-round pick of the Blues in the 2011 NHL Draft, Binnington made his debut in the League in 2015-16, playing 13 minutes in a relief role.
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He'd been in the American Hockey League ever since, and was with the San Antonio Rampage, St. Louis' AHL affiliate as recently as early January.
Binnington got his first call-up to St. Louis in December after veteran Chad Johnson was claimed on waivers by Anaheim. Binnington spent a couple weeks backing up Jake Allen before being sent back to San Antonio to get some playing time.
On Jan. 5, Binnington was again summoned to St. Louis, and the Blues haven't been the same since.
In his first game action after the latest recall, Binnington stopped all 25 shots in a shutout win over the Philadelphia Flyers. He followed with wins in his next two starts, allowing a total of two goals in victories over Montreal and Dallas.
He hasn't slowed down much.
In 10 starts since Jan. 7, Binnington has allowed more than two goals just once. He's posted an 8-1-1 record during that span. His most recent highlight came in Tampa on Thursday when he stopped all 32 shots he faced in St. Louis' 1-0 overtime win.
In addition to a sparkling win-loss ledger, Binnington has a 1.49 goals-against average to go with a .940 save percentage, essentially stealing the starting job away -- at least for now -- from Allen, who is in the midst of the worst season of his career.
With the Blues skyrocketing up the Western Conference standings, expect Binnington to get perhaps two starts in St. Paul later this month when St. Louis and Minnesota play on consecutive Sundays at Xcel Energy Center.
With the Blues and Wild presently holding the wild card spots in the conference, those games could have huge importance when it comes to the playoffs.