Jordan Binnington‘s storybook ride from fourth stringer to Stanley Cup-winning goaltender was fueled by a few free meals.
The best came last weekend at Brio Tuscan Grille, one of his favorite spots as St. Louis began to feel like home.
”They were good to me,” Binnington said.
Binnington has been so good for the Blues that fans of the long-suffering franchise might never let him pay for another meal again. Drafted in the third round, shuffled to the bottom of the Blues’ goalie chart and even farmed out to Boston’s top minor league affiliate, Binnington’s comeback is one for the ages: The 25-year-old rookie led the Blues from dead last in the NHL to the first championship in franchise history.
He turned out to be the perfect backstop for the bruising Blues, a quiet anchor to rally around for a six-month run to the title. There was nowhere to go but up.
”It’s really cool,” the soft-spoken Toronto-area native said. ”I understand it’s a good story. But I’m going to appreciate it later.”
Binnington spoke not long after a 4-1 victory over the Bruins in Game 7 on Wednesday night. Stunned to be standing there with the Stanley Cup, Binnington wondered aloud, ”I can’t believe we’re here now?”
He led them here. Beginning with a shutout in his first NHL start Jan. 7 in Philadelphia, Binnington went 24-5-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.
”The first game he gets a shutout in Philly and you’re hoping,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. ”You keep watching and wondering, ‘Is this real?’ Water usually finds its level. Well, his water level is very high. I would say you’re into mid-February and March and he’s a rock of our team. … He’s a well-deserving champion.”
St. Louis’ run coincided with Binnington’s arrival and concluded with him stopping 32 shots in Game 7. Coach Craig Berube called it Binnington’s best game of the series.
”(He’s a) great goaltender,” Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O'Reilly said. ”If we keep (shots) to the outside, he’s going to be making those saves.”
Making saves without looking flashy is what Binnington does best. He isn’t frantic in his play and exudes confidence that O’Reilly believes flows to the rest of the team.
”This group just got closer and closer as we went on,” Binnington said. ”They welcomed me in well and I just tried to do my job, battle and keep my mouth shut.”
Showing just how many elder Blues players hadn’t won the Cup, Binnington was the 14th player to receive the trophy after captain Alex Pietrangelo handed it off. That’s hockey, and everyone on the roster knows Binnington led the way when it mattered. He went 7-2 in the playoffs following a loss and earned a tremendous amount of respect from teammates for how he handled so much time in the minors before getting to this point.
”He hasn’t been given the greatest hand. He hasn’t been given an easy route to get here,” veteran Blues defenseman Chris Butler said. ”He’s put his head down and continued to work. It’s been fun to watch. I always had an idea that he was a pretty good goaltender. I would never have been able to predict this. I think a lot of people were expecting him to falter.”
Not Binnington, even when he was fourth string in the St. Louis organization as recently as training camp.
Butler always sensed confidence oozing from Binnington, who famously asked early in his run, ”Do I look nervous?”
He never really did.
”He’s always been extremely confident in himself, and that’s what you’ve got to love about a goaltender,” Butler said. ”You feel like the team kind of takes on that persona when he steps into the crease.”
Binnington’s quiet confidence and ability to steal games were key to the Blues climbing from last place to the top of the hockey world. Game 7 was a perfect example: He made 12 saves in the first period to keep the Bruins off the board and allow his teammates to finally crack dominant playoff goalie Tuukka Rask.
”He shut the door,” center Tyler Bozak said. ”He made incredible saves and gave us that confidence that he was dialed in, like he was all year. Just to get that first goal was kind of a relief, and we built from there.”
Binnington was nothing if not resilient. He went 13-2 following a loss this season.
”Stuff’s going to happen,” Binnington said. ”You’re going to go through adversity, right? And that’s how you handle it.”
Binnington is grateful for the free grub but all spring has been reluctant to dwell on his rags-to-riches story. Don’t expect any grand proclamations now about his road, his run and how he made this improbable championship happen.
”It’s been good,” Binnington said. ”I’ve been enjoying it.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno