The St. Louis Blues finished an improbable comeback Thursday night when they defeated the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 in Winnipeg, scoring the winning goal with 15 seconds remaining. With that victory, the team took a 3-2 series lead back to home ice for game six, which takes place Saturday night in St. Louis.
Lost in the chaos of the last-minute victory was another strong performance from the team’s rookie goaltender, Jordan Binnington. With his consistent playoff performance, the netminder is putting to rest any lingering doubts that the Blues should treat him as their goalie of the future.
The Reason the Blues Are in the Playoffs
Entering the playoffs, there was no question how valuable Binnington was to his team. Simply put, he is the primary, if not the sole reason the Blues made the playoffs to begin with.
Four days before Binnington made his first career NHL start, the Blues were in last place in the entire league. Then, the rookie goaltender put on his first brilliant showing of the season, blanking the Philadelphia Flyers in a 3-0 victory on Jan. 7.
It was just a taste of things to come. In total, he went 24-5-1, posting a goals against average of 1.89 (which led the league) and a save percentage of .927. He added 13.74 goals saved above average, an outrageous number considering the relatively few games he played. He also recorded five shutouts, a number only eight other goalies reached on the season.
Those numbers have made Binnington a strong contender for the Calder Trophy for the NHL’s rookie of the year. He likely still won’t edge out Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks (we’ll know the finalists officially on Apr. 27), but the fact that he’s entered the conversation with just half a season of service time speaks to his incredible performance.
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That performance is what brought the Blues out of the basement and into a playoff position. But even with that knowledge, many remained skeptical that Binnington could truly be a cornerstone of the Blues’ future. They needed a strong playoff performance to verify that he was truly as good as the numbers suggested.
Binnington’s Strong Playoffs
Right out of the gate, Binnington began to assuage fans’ fears about his playoff viability. His first career postseason game was a 2-1 road win against the “White Out” in Winnipeg. He stopped 24 of 25 shots, allowing only one goal on a wicked shot from Patrik Laine, one of the best pure shooters in the league.
Games two and three were weaker performances, especially game three, which is arguably one of his worst starts on the season. He allowed six goals on 29 shots, and while the defense let him down repeatedly, he was hardly looking his sharpest. Critically, he bounced back in games four and five, stopping 66 of 70 shots across the two game, and keeping his team in both contests.
That ability to bounce back truly cemented what fans had hoped about Binnington. He performed so well throughout the season that he had not faced a lot of adversity at any point (including never losing back-to-back games until games three and four of this series). After a let down in game three, though, he proved his mettle by bouncing back to strong performances in the two following matchups.
All told, Binnington has a .908 SV% and a 2.76 GAA in his five playoff starts. If you remove that game three performance, those numbers improve dramatically, to a .935 SV% and a roughly 1.96 GAA. Those are as good or better than the incredible numbers he posted in the regular season, and they prove that he can keep his cool in the playoffs.
Binnington’s Bright Future
In one sense, it’s hard to be certain what exactly Binnington is. The numbers he’s produced this season are extraordinary, and it would be unreasonable to expect him to continue with those numbers into the future. The Blues need to remember that when they negotiate his contract (he is a restricted free agent) after the season.
With that said, it would be equally unreasonable, given all the evidence, to argue that he has anything other than a very bright future in the NHL. These are not the numbers of a fluke, but rather, of a legitimate starting goalie in this league, and he may be the cure to a lot of what has ailed the Blues for a very long time.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.