BOSTON -- Jordan Binnington stayed in his crease as wave after wave of celebratory St. Louis Blues players crashed onto him Wednesday night, their Stanley Cup party starting on the Boston Bruins' home ice. When the final buzzer sounded on the Blues' 4-1 victory in Game 7, the rookie goalie was engulfed by his teammates -- a fitting image, given that he was at the center of their victory, delivering the first Cup in franchise history to St. Louis.
"I'm so proud of this group, and I'm so excited to celebrate the city of St. Louis," Binnington said.
It was the end of one of the most unlikely journeys for both a team and its goaltender. The Blues were in last place in the NHL in early January. Binnington started the season as he had in every year of his pro career: in the minor leagues, with the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League. He had been buried on the Blues' depth chart since being drafted No. 88 overall in 2011. But his confidence in his abilities never wavered.
His message after hoisting the Stanley Cup as a 25-year-old rookie couldn't have conveyed the emotions behind that wait any more starkly.
"Man. F--- everyone. You just got to believe in yourself and work hard and just keep believing," Binnington said as the Blues celebrated with the Cup. "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."
Where Binnington was at the end of Game 7 was in rare company. His 32 saves was the most by a rookie goalie to clinch the Stanley Cup Final since the league began tracking shots in 1955. He joins a list that includes Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy and Cam Ward as rookie goalies who led their teams to the Stanley Cup.
Those three won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Binnington watched teammate Ryan O'Reilly collect that award. But there was no question who the most valuable player in Game 7 was.
"I think Binner really set the tone for us early," St. Louis center Tyler Bozak said. "They 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."
"That save that he made, early in the third? Oh, my God. Right after that, we scored our third goal," said Larry Robinson, the Blues' senior consultant to hockey operations. "You gotta have your goalie."
The Blues also had him in Game 5, when Binnington made 38 saves to win in Boston and give them a chance to clinch in St. Louis. The Blues lost that game. But that's OK, because if there's one thing that has defined Jordan Binnington during this journey from the bottom of the depth chart to raising the Stanley Cup, it's winning after losing.
Binnington is now 14-2 after losses, including 8-2 in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in such situations.
He was everything the Blues needed to find their confidence and put away the Bruins.
"You could just see our bench getting motivated by it," St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong said.
How did this rookie pull it off?
"His demeanor," Armstrong said. "Even now, in the celebration, it doesn't look like it's too much for him. He's just one cool customer."