Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final was an unmitigated disaster for the St. Louis Blues.
They got embarrassed by the Boston Bruins’ power play again. They got embarrassed at home on the scoreboard 7-2. And they had no choice but to send their rookie netminder for an early shower because of it all.
The way things were going, it just had to be done.
Binnington, who’s been so darn remarkable since he burst on the scene with a 25-save shutout on Jan. 7 in his first NHL start, couldn’t navigate the madness the Bruins levied onto him and his Blues.
“Five goals he allowed, so he had seen enough, so we just wanted to pull him and get him ready for the next game,” Blues head coach Craig Berube said.
The mercy pull at a pivotal juncture in the Cup Final, with the Bruins now holding a 2-1 series lead.
Mr. “Do I look nervous?” may not have looked nervous, per se, but he certainly was rattled.
The Bruins got to Binnington in a way few others have. A man known for his calm, tranquil nature, he broke kayfabe during a TV timeout where, when skating past Boston netminder Tuukka Rask, he gave the Finn a bit of a nudge.
“Four-nothing game, I wasn’t happy,” Binnington said of the bump. “It’s how I reacted. It’s a long series, right? So, it’s just something I did and we’re moving on.”
Not long after, Binnington’s name disappeared down the tunnel leading to the Blues’ dressing room after becoming a victim of five goals against on 19 shots faced.
“Sometimes, it’s not going to go your way,” Binnington said in a variation of what he’s said after every loss this postseason. “It’s a long series. We’ve come this far. We have to regroup and come back at them for next game.
“You just have to handle adversity. It’s not going to be perfect. These things will happen. You just regroup and move on.”
Allowing three power-play goals is never good, but when it happens on just three shots, it looks much worse. By the same token, it’s also hard to blame him since he’s not the one putting the Bruins on the man-advantage, but the goalie needs to be the best penalty killer and Binnington didn’t play that part in Saturday’s 7-2 loss.
“I got to be better,” Binnington said. “I got to do a better job giving my team a chance to win. They scored three goals in the first. That’s never good. They’re a good hockey team. We have to get back to our game, stay focused.”
Binnington knows how to handle a post-game scrum, win or lose, but truth be told, Binnington hasn’t been great in the Stanley Cup Final. While a case could be made for good, he’s been mostly average.
To help close out the San Jose Sharks, Binnington put up save percentages of .967, 1.000, and .962 in Games 4, 5 and 6, respectively. In the next three games, all against Boston, he’s been well below those numbers, going .919, .913, and then Saturday’s porous .737.
The Blues desperately need a higher level of play from their No. 1 to return in this series. And quickly.
Binnington’s ace up his sleeve is his rock solid record in games following a loss where he’s 12-2 this season, including a 6-2 record after a postseason defeat. They’ll need that Game 4, where a loss would almost assuredly spell doom for their Cinderella-esque run.
“My confidence level’s really high,” Berube said of his goaltender.
That sentiment was echoed by Binnington’s teammates.
“He’s played good,” Ryan O'Reilly said. “I thought he played well tonight, it’s just we weren’t good enough in front of him. We can be better and keep them to the outside and stay out of the box. He’s going to make those saves. It’s never a question, no doubt in my mind about him. It’s us as a group [to] respond and be better in front of him.”
Game 4 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Monday (stream here).