ST. LOUIS — Jordan Binnington's stay with Providence of the American Hockey League was short-lived but it proved to be effective in the initial success of the Blues goalie.
Beginning with Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins on Monday, Binnington will get the opportunity to bite the hand that once temporarily fed him.
The Blues loaned Binnington to Providence, the AHL affiliate of the Boston Bruins, at the start of the 2017-18 season since the Blues were sharing players with San Antonio, which was the affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche before St. Louis came in this season, and the Chicago Wolves, the AHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights. The Blues didn't have an affiliate last season, so St. Louis was sending players to both San Antonio and Chicago. There wasn't room for Binnington.
Binnington was fourth on the goalie depth chart at the time for the Blues, and Ville Husso was already in place at San Antonio, so they needed a spot for Binnington to play in, and Providence, with the help of Blues pro scout and San Antonio GM Kevin McDonald as well as Providence GM and Bruins director of player personnel John Ferguson Jr., it was agreed upon that Binnington would join Providence for the season to share time with Zane McIntyre.
It all came about when Binnington, a third-round pick by the Blues in the 2011 NHL Draft, elected not to go to the ECHL and wanted to stay at a higher level.
"Yeah, I didn't want to go there," Binnington said. "I was confident in myself that I could handle the next level and just be ready for the opportunity when it came."
That opportunity came, and Binnington played in 28 games with Providence. He was 17-9-1 with a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. He worked with Providence goalie coach Mike Dunham and Blues developmental goalie coach Dave Rogalski.
"Yeah, I was very fortunate for them to take me in," said Binnington, who played with current Bruins Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton. "I got some experience, and it's a great organization over there. Lots of good players, good city, so I was very fortunate to get an opportunity to play last year and get some experience under my belt and take into this year."
The move paid off well, and if not for the work with Rogalski and Dunham, once a goalie with the New Jersey Devils, Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers and New York Islanders, who knows if Binnington would be sitting in this position.
"We were in a spot where we needed another goalie and St. Louis was in a spot where they needed to find somewhere for him to play," Dunham said of Binnington. "So it just worked. And Jordan came in and got comfortable with the teammates quickly, and I think that helped a lot. He just came out and he worked hard every day. He came out, he did what we asked of him. He did all the goalie drills, he worked hard. There were a lot of weekends where he played just Saturday games. He got his game and he went in there and did the best that he could do. He put up really good numbers for us last year.
"He showed up every day, he had a great attitude. As a goalie coach, all you want is them to come to work every day and give it the hour, hour and a half, whatever it takes to prepare themselves for the games and that’s what he did. He had a good attitude about it. I think he enjoyed the organization here and being here and getting a chance to play. And as goalies and as athletes, that’s all they want is a chance to play. We gave him a chance to play last year and he seized it and he kind of rolled it over to this year, and that’s great to see for him."
After going 24-5-1 with an NHL-leading 1.89 GAA and .927 save percentage in the regular season, Binnington is 12-7 with a 2.36 GAA and .914 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He's the fifth rookie goalie in NHL history and first since Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers (1987) to be responsible for each of his team's first 12 wins in a playoff year.
Binnington is 3-0 with a 1.17 GAA and .947 in series-clinching games this postseason.
"I respect his (perseverance) a lot," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Where he's came out of junior and things like that, I'm sure that he thought he'd be right in there maybe a lot quicker than he had or I'm sure the organization thought the same thing, but it doesn't always work out that way. He's not the only one. There's been lots of players like that over the years, but it's on him. He stayed with it, worked hard and he got an opportunity this year and he's making the best of it. It's nice to see. Happy for him."
Now Binnington will try and duplicate what Matt Murray did for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015, win a Stanley Cup as a rookie. But he'll have to do it against the hottest goalie in the playoffs, Tuukka Rask, who is 12-5 and leads all goalies in GAA (1.84) and save percentage (.942).
"From the games I've watched, he's very confident right now," Binnington said of Rask. "He's had some playoff runs so he's had some experience. He's a good goalie, so we're going to have to be aggressive and get traffic on him.
"For me personally, I've just got to take care of my job and believe in the team in front of me to take care of that."