BOSTON — Jordan Binnington took the Stanley Cup and thrust it in the air with a purpose for all to see Wednesday, his smile comprised of jubilation, adulation and sneer.
This was his time, his moment, his pinnacle, and he was going to use it to send a clear message.
He made sure his naysayers heard it loud and clear too.
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“If there were any doubters along the way, this was the exclamation point,” the St. Louis Blues goalie said.
How can anyone second guess him now? He helped the Blues win the Stanley Cup for the first time, defeating the Boston Bruins 4-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden by making 32 saves, many of the highlight-reel variety, and becoming the first NHL rookie goalie to win 16 games in a single postseason.
He is truly a Cinderella story.
Consider this: Binnington entered training camp as the fourth goalie on the Blues depth chart and started the season with San Antonio of the American Hockey League. He was promoted to St. Louis on Dec. 10 and made his first NHL start on Jan. 7.
But there he was Wednesday, in the goal crease for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It took him until age 25 to reach the NHL, but five months later, he’s a Stanley Cup champion.
A goalie known for withholding his emotions, it was time for Binnington to finally let them bust out for the world to see.
“When the buzzer [sounded], I just grabbed anyone I could,” he said. “It’s just an amazing group of guys. Just a great feeling. When you believe in yourself, it doesn’t matter how many others don’t.
“It wasn’t always easy. There were down times. I put myself in tough spots. The bigger the challenge, the greater the response. I just tried to adjust to the challenge every day and be the goalie I thought I could be and take advantage of my talent.”
Through it all, his mind drifted to his minor hockey days and the role his father, John, played.
“I thought about how hard my dad worked to take me to hockey rinks as a kid. You can’t take advantage of that,” Binnington said. “You have to appreciate that. I so much appreciate what people like my dad and Coach Mike did for me.”
Coach Mike is Mike Vallescuro, the man who switched Binnington from forward to goalie when he was 8 years old.
Binnington was trying out for the Vaughan Rangers of the Greater Toronto Hockey League at the time. The first shot he faced hit him right in the head, but he didn’t flinch. That’s when Vallescuro knew Binnington found a home in the crease.
Seventeen years later, Vallescuro wiped tears from his eyes at his Toronto-area home Wednesday while watching Binnington lift the Cup. After having a front-row seat for the start of Binnington’s goaltending journey, he was witnessing the culmination.
“I just can’t believe it from where he’s come from,” Vallescuro said in a phone interview. “I mean, I just remember him as a kid. I just remember him smiling, always smiling as a kid. All the hockey games we went to, the tournaments we went to. And now he’s a grown man and hoisting the Stanley Cup.
“Jordan believed in himself. It’s all him. He believed he was in the right situation, right team, right coach, and he took advantage. It’s all about winning with Jordan. He doesn’t care how he gets there. And now he’s on the top of the world.”
The numbers back that up.
Ten of Binnington’s 16 victories came on the road (10-3, 2.17 goals-against average, .925 save percentage, one shutout), tying the record by any goalie in a single postseason. He equaled Martin Brodeur (10-1 in 1995, 10-2 in 2000, each with the New Jersey Devils), Jonathan Quick (10-1 in 2012 with the Los Angeles Kings), Braden Holtby (10-3 in 2018 with the Washington Capitals) and Miikka Kiprusoff (10-4 in 2004 with the Calgary Flames).
Binnington, who can become a restricted free agent July 1, is the fourth rookie goalie to win Game 7 of a Cup Final, joining Frank McCool of the Toronto Maple Leafs (1945 at the Detroit Red Wings), Ken Dryden of the Montreal Canadiens (1971 at the Chicago Blackhawks) and Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes (2006 vs. the Edmonton Oilers).
“I would say the moral here is dare to dream or never give up,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. “It wasn’t an easy road to get into our organization. He got his opportunity and he seized it. And then you had to ask, how long can he sustain this? Does water find its level?
“He responded to all those questions. His performance was remarkable.”
As he celebrated on the ice, Binnington was asked what message he had for the city of St. Louis.
“We’re champs. That’s it. I’m out of here now,” he said, skating away.