BLUES (10-7) AT SHARKS (10-8)
3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVAS, SN
A third-round pick who spent five-plus seasons in the minors, Jordan Binnington is hardly an overnight sensation.
However, as the St. Louis Blues prepare for their crucial Western Conference final Game 5 against the Sharks Sunday afternoon in San Jose, Calif., Binnington continues to shock the hockey world.
Thanks to the rookie netminder the Blues are tied 2-2 with the Sharks in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoffs, and Binnington’s success has put him in the franchise’s history books. He’s the first-ever Blues goalie to win 10 playoff games and only the 10th rookie goalie in league history to have double-digit victories in a single playoff year.
“That’s a great honor obviously,” Binnington said. “I’m having a lot of fun back here playing with this team. They’re doing a great job. … I just tried to do my job.”
In the first outing after surrendering a late goal and then experiencing a controversial loss in Game 3, Binnington and the Blues could have crumbled. Instead, he was as cool as a cucumber and slammed the door when the Sharks were pushing to again net a late equalizer.
“Obviously he gives us a ton of confidence,” Blues forward Tyler Bozak told NHL.com. “We know he’s going to make the right play, make the big saves.”
The West champion will advance to meet the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, and the battle between the Sharks and Blues has already been a wild one, not only because of the handball goal scored by the Sharks in Game 3. No team has won consecutive games, and a case can be made St. Louis deserved to win the third game while San Jose was the better team last outing.
And now it’s heading toward the always colossal fifth game. When the conference finals are tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 owns an all-time series record of 19-8. How each team copes with the magnitude of the situation will be an interesting case study. The Sharks and Blues were in this exact position three years ago in the Western Conference final, and San Jose claimed the next two games to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
“We’re in the conference final. We’ve got overtime wins. We’ve had Game 7s. We’ve had emotional games for sure,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said. “You just lace ’em back up for the next game and get ready to go and you compete. We understand momentum swings get reset each night and you’ve got to go and earn it.”
Added coach Peter DeBoer: “It’s a great spot to be in. This is supposed to be hard. What happened with Boston on the other side, that usually doesn’t happen. Usually these are all six, seven hard-fought games, hard-fought series. We’re right where I expected we would be.”
But the Blues, who are being backstopped by the calm Binnington – save for his reaction after the controversial goal in Game 3 counted – believe they’re ready to take the next step in their franchise’s history. The last time the Blues made it to the final round was 1970.
“We’re in a good spot here,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “We feel like we’ve got some momentum.”
–Field Level Media