The St. Louis Blues completed their most dominant performance of the postseason Sunday afternoon when they defeated the San Jose Sharks by a score of 5-0 to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Final. It was a fast-paced and unique performance, and in the process, the Blues set a number of franchise records.
Blues’ Best Season Ever
Though the Blues reached the Stanley Cup Final in each of their first three seasons as a franchise, they had never in their history won 11 games in a single postseason. Their previous high was 10, which they did only twice: in 1985-86, and in 2015-16.
When the Blues arrived in the NHL, they were slotted in the Western Conference with the other six expansion teams. That guaranteed that one of the newcomers would make the Final, but also all but assured that said team would be a sacrificial lamb to one of the Original Six teams. That was indeed the case, as the Blues made it to the Stanley Cup Final three straight seasons, but were swept each time, twice by the Montreal Canadiens and once by the Boston Bruins.
St. Louis still has never won a single game in the Stanley Cup Final, and they need one more victory to give themselves another chance, but this season’s team has officially had more postseason success than any of its predecessors.
Binnington’s Bold Performance
Much of the Blues’ success in the postseason (as well as their resurgence to make the playoffs) has been fueled by rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. Since his debut on Jan. 3, a shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers, he has been the talk of the town, but questions lingered as to whether he could keep it up in the postseason.
While his postseason performance has actually been weaker than his extraterrestrial regular season numbers, Binnington has still shined, especially in the big moments. He has a .912 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.44 goals-against average (GAA) overall in the postseason. But in games numbers 5, 6, or 7, he’s been extraordinary: he’s 5-1 with a .947 SV% and a 1.25 GAA in those games.
It goes without saying that Binnington’s 11 postseason wins are the most for any goaltender, rookie or otherwise, in Blues’ history. But he also has joined an elite club of just 10 goaltenders who have recorded 10 or more postseason wins as a rookie. That group includes Felix Potvin, Cam Ward, Matt Murray, Ken Dryden, and Patrick Roy (who leads the pack with 15 postseason wins.) No goaltender has ever won all 16 games in capturing a Stanley Cup as a rookie.
“That’s a great honor, obviously,” Binnington told NHL.com about his 10th win. “I’m having a lot of fun back here playing with this team and they’re doing a great job. They limited chances tonight. I think we played a complete game, so I just try do to my job.”
In addition, he is the only rookie goaltender in Blues’ history to record a shutout in the postseason. Championship or not, there is no question that Binnington is St. Louis’ goaltender of the future. His is one of the truly remarkable and unexpected stories in hockey this season.
Schwartz & Tarasenko Set Records
Sunday’s game also featured two more individual records. Jaden Schwartz scored a goal with just under four minutes remaining in the third period to secure his second hat trick of the playoffs (the first came in Game 5 against the Winnipeg Jets in round one). No St. Louis player has ever had two three-goal performances in a single playoff.
Finally, Vladimir Tarasenko got a unique solo accomplishment when he scored his seventh goal of the postseason on a penalty shot in the second period. It was the first successful postseason penalty shot in Blues’ franchise history, and he became just the fourth player in NHL history to score on a penalty shot in the Conference Finals/Semifinals. The other three to do it were Wayne Gretzky, Joe Sakic, and Mats Sundin, so Tarasenko joins some truly elite company in that regard.
A Date With Destiny?
St. Louis needs just one more victory to punch their ticket to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970, when they were defeated by the Bruins and Bobby Orr’s famous flying goal. It is beyond fitting that those same Bruins await the winner of the Western Conference Final. Could the Blues be on their way to another matchup with Boston, 50 years in the making?
One thing is certain: this team won’t take anything for granted. Their first priority is securing victory against the Sharks in Game 6, which takes place on Tuesday night in St. Louis. If the Blues hear “Gloria” one more time in their locker room, they’ll be Western Conference Champions for the first time in almost 50 years.