BOSTON — In the lead-up to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington could barely contain his excitement, as a rookie is wont to do.
“I couldn’t even sleep the last couple of days,” Binnington said. “Your mind wanders.”
It didn’t show.
Binnington shined in a 32-save performance as the Blues beat the Boston Bruins 4-1 on Wednesday for the first Stanley Cup title in franchise history.
The championship ends a 52-year drought for the Blues, the longest wait for a first title in NHL history. St. Louis completed a full turnaround from last place in the league as recently as Jan. 2, becoming the first team in the NHL’s expansion era to win a championship after ranking last at any point after its 30th game of the season.
The late-season push for the Cup went hand in hand with the call-up of Binnington, who took over as the starting goaltender Jan. 7 and led the team to the best record in the NHL the rest of the way into the playoffs.
“At the time, we wanted to get someone up here, and he was the guy,” St. Louis coach Craig Berube said. “He was outstanding tonight, I thought it was his best game of the series.”
Binnington, 25, became the first rookie to win all 16 of his team’s games in a single playoff year. He is the 14th freshman to earn a Stanley Cup-clinching win and the fourth to do so in a Game 7.
Of course, Binnington couldn’t do it alone. Ryan O’Reilly and Alex Pietrangelo scored late in the first period for the Blues, and Brayden Schenn and Zach Sanford each scored in the third to put St. Louis up 4-0.
O’Reilly, the leading scorer of the finals with five goals and four assists, was named winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player of the playoffs. When he got the Blues on the board with 3:13 remaining in the first period, he became the first player with goals in four straight Stanley Cup Final games since Wayne Gretzky in 1985.
Further, it was the fourth straight game O’Reilly opened the scoring for St. Louis, putting him alongside Toronto’s Sid Smith (1951) and Detroit’s Norm Ullman (1966) as the only players to accomplish that feat during the finals.
“There’s so many people to thank, and I’m just so proud of this group and myself, too,” O’Reilly said. “I just can’t believe that we hung on and got this done.”
Tuukka Rask stopped 16 of 20 shots for the Bruins in the loss. He had been 3-0 in series-clinching opportunities entering the finals. Rask wound up with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage in this year’s playoffs.
“For him to be as good as he was, that’s the reason we’re here,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “He was incredible every night, gave us every opportunity to win.”
Boston forward David Krejci added, “He was our MVP for sure.”
Matt Grzelcyk scored the Bruins’ lone goal with 2:10 remaining and Rask pulled.
While Binnington was on his game early, the St. Louis offense got off to a slow start, held without a shot for more than 16 minutes after getting the first of the game 27 seconds in. O’Reilly’s marker came at 16:47, and Pietrangelo put one over the shoulder of Rask on the backhand with eight seconds left in the opening period.
The Blues carried a 2-0 lead to the locker room despite being outshot 12-4 in the first 20 minutes.
“I don’t think anybody was down after the first period, we just knew the task at hand was going to be a challenge,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said.
Binnington continued his strong play through a scoreless second, turning away another 11 shots. He batted away several scoring chances in the third before Schenn’s goal came with 8:35 remaining for a 3-0 lead. Sanford made it 4-0 at 15:22.
“I’m really excited right now, it’s an incredible feeling,” Binnington said from the ice after the game. “Happy to be here.”
The defeat was the second straight for the Bruins in the finals, after they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in 2013.
“This hurts more than that,” Marchand said. “It’s not something you ever forget.”
–By Kyle Brasseur, Field Level Media