The St. Louis Blues would not be in their first Stanley Cup finals since 1970 if not for rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. A Stanley Cup win, however, would put the netminder in some very elite NHL company.
The 25-year-old Binnington finished the regular season with an above-average save percentage (.927) and league-leading goals against average (1.89), numbers good enough for Vezina Trophy consideration if the voters can overlook his resume listing only 32 games played -- no goaltender since Billy Smith (1981-82) has ever won the award playing 46 or fewer games during a full regular season.
Still, there is no denying Binnington was among the best goaltenders since the start of the calendar year, recording a 24-5-1 record with five shutouts in 2019 while propelling the Blues from dead last in the NHL to a contender for the Central Division title on the final day of the regular season.
“Obviously [Binnington] gives us a lot of confidence. We know he’s going to make the right play and make the big saves,” teammate Tyler Bozak told KSDK News.
Rookie netminders like Binnington haven’t gone on many extended runs in the playoffs. Since the league expanded beyond the Original Six, just 27 other netminders have logged at least 10 postseason games in their first full year and only seven of those made it to the Stanley Cup finals. Four of those 27 ended up hoisting the Stanley Cup: Ken Dryden (1971 Montreal Canadiens), Patrick Roy (1986 Montreal Canadiens), Cam Ward (2006 Carolina Hurricanes) and Matt Murray (2016 Pittsburgh Penguins).
Dryden ended the series stopping 210 of 228 shots faced (.921 save percentage) and earned himself the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs. He’d go on to win five more championships and entry in the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility (1983). Roy, another Hall of Fame member, capped off one of the best goaltender performances in postseason history (14 goals saved above average, 18th most ever among all playoff goaltenders). He also became the youngest Conn Smythe winner ever as a 20-year-old. Ward tied Roy and Ron Hextall for the rookie record for wins in the postseason (15) and also earned the Conn Smythe after leading Carolina to a Game 7 victory over the Edmonton Oilers in the finals. Murray would match that postseason win total for Pittsburgh in 2016 and earn another championship ring a year later.
To join this exclusive club, Binnington will need to recapture some of the magic he had during the regular season. For example, Binnington saved the Blues 14 more goals than we would expect from a league-average goaltender during the regular season, making him the 12th most-valuable netminder in this regard. He’s saved one fewer goal than we would expect from a league-average goaltender in the playoffs, placing him fifth out of the seven goalies starting at least 10 games in the 2019 postseason. His opposite in the Stanley Cup finals, Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins, is worth 14 goals above average during this postseason run.
Plus, during the regular season, Binnington stopped 153 of 178 high-danger scoring chances (.860 save percentage) at even strength, attempts originating in the slot or the crease, and was also adept at fighting off those Grade A chances on the penalty kill (46 of 59, .852 save percentage). In the playoffs his save rates on those attempts have dipped to .808 and .722, respectively.
Declines like those for short periods of time during the regular season are commonplace but if they continue against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals it could spell trouble for the Blues. The Bruins are generating 11 high-danger chances per 60 minutes at even strength during the 2019 postseason (ninth most) and have outscored opponents 19 to 7 on high-danger goals heading into the Stanley Cup finals. St. Louis, by comparison, has been outscored 19 to 25 on these Grade A shots.
“It’s about will,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told the Gloucester Daily Times. “Put shots on net, turn them, get them to chase and create rebounds. Use your speed and skill to loosen them up. That’s the task, the formula, and we’ve got to be willing to do it.”
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