Someone will win the Stanley Cup next season, but it’s entirely unlikely they will do so in precisely the same way the St. Louis Blues did. Things like this usually only happen once in a generation.
How does a team in last place in the league on Jan. 3 after 37 games, which had fired its coach in November, that was relying on a goaltender who had played only one NHL game in three seasons before Jan. 7, rally so magnificently over the final five months of the season?
They will write a book someday about these Blues and it will include a marvelous final chapter about going into a road hotbed and shutting down the Boston Bruins in Game 7 to win their first league championship.
“Man. F— everyone. You just got to believe in yourself and work hard and just keep believing,” Blues goalie Jordan Binnington said. “I work pretty hard. Obviously, the group was incredible, we meshed well, and everyone was playing hard for each other, so I’m really happy with where I’m at right now.”
The Blues had not played in a Stanley Cup final since 1970 and came into the series against the Bruins without a Finals victory after being swept in their first three tries. But that was in the past.
This team, which didn’t include one player who had ever won the Stanley Cup, fought back time and time again to prove its point. Even after the Bruins blasted them in St. Louis in Game 6, disappointing a fervent home crowd waiting to celebrate, they again compartmentalized disappointment and routed Boston 4-1 in the deciding game.
“We’ve been waiting for this for so many freaking years, and to be from St. Louis and put this sweater on every night, holy cow,” forward Patrick Maroon told the New York Times. “We brought it home.”
On Wednesday, the hero was obviously Binnington. His work was superior in the formative first period, saving his team on a number of occasions until it was finally able to find its traction offensively to score two goals.
Binnington’s backstory is one of perseverance. He began the season in the minor leagues, the afterthought on the organization depth chart. He played more than 200 games in the minors and was even shipped out to the Bruins’ AHL team in Providence, R.I., for a time last season because the Blues had no room for him. He was superfluous.
But after the Blues faltered, interim coach Craig Berube advocated for the recall of a goalie he’d coached in the minor leagues. And the Blues quickly took off, almost immediately running off an 11-game winning streak.
He made 32 saves on Wednesday, the most by a rookie in a Stanley Cup clincher since the NHL began keeping track of shots 64 years ago. Other rookies have won Cup championships, including Hall of Famers Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy. But none had ever performed so consistently when it counted.
“I think Binner really set the tone for us early,” St. Louis center Tyler Bozak said. “They (the Bruins) came out really hard. They got a lot of good scoring chances. And he shut the door. He made incredible saves and gave us that confidence that he was dialed in, like he was all year.”
Binnington finished the season 14-2 after losses, including 8-2 in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.
“His demeanor,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. “Even now, in the celebration, it doesn’t look like it’s too much for him. He’s just one cool customer.”
Binnington wasn’t the only fulcrum on the team. Ryan O’Reilly took over on his end of the ice, delivering on the promise he’d made to the organization after they acquired him in July from the Buffalo Sabres.
“I just looked at the roster, and I was so amped up about it,” O’Reilly said. “I said, ‘Let’s go win the Cup.’”
O’Reilly ended up with a franchise-record 23 playoff points and was named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP. Not since Wayne Gretzky in 1985 had a player scored a goal in four straight Finals games. And O’Reilly became the first since Mark Messier with the New York Rangers in 1994 to compile at least one point in six consecutive Finals games.
“We knew it was there, we knew we had the pieces,” O’Reilly said. “But it was so educational for myself to see how tough it is and how hard we have to work and how even keel you have to be.”
O’Reilly joined goalie Glenn Hall (1967-68) as the only players to win the Conn Smythe after finishing the previous season with a different team. Hall also won the award with the Blues.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Blues center Brayden Schenn told NHL.com. “It’s absolutely incredible. I can’t even explain. It feels like a video game we’re in. It’s what you dream of as a kid, posing with the Stanley Cup, getting to lift it. It’s a special group. We’re going to party hard.”
St. Louis defeated the Winnipeg Jets in six games in the Western Conference first round, beat the Dallas Stars in seven in the second round and the San Jose Sharks in six games in the conference final. They are the first team to win the Stanley Cup after being last in the standings at least 30 games into a season.
“It had to be this way, man,” said Binnington, the first rookie goalie to win 16 games in a postseason. “It was an incredible year and I can’t believe where we’re at. It’s awesome.”