Binnington’s story has become an instant legend. Unforgettably, he backstopped the Owen Sound Attack, a last-place team the year before, to an OHL title as 17-year-old in 2011… well, maybe not so unforgettably because it seemed that the Blues management team had forgotten about him in their system. He was for stretches an occasionally used back-up in the AHL and seemed to reach a breaking point with the organization when he refused assignment to East Coast Hockey League before the 2017–18 season and was loaned out of the organization to the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence. Feeling slighted by St Louis’ management, Binnington had his best professional season. This post-season could be a great last chapter to a Horatio Alger story. But the underlying truth is less inspirational. “His arrival coincided with us playing well,” Armstrong says. “That’s the way it really timed out. He had a fabulous run, no doubt, but timing had a lot to do with it.”
With a 13–1–1 record, a .937 save percentage and four shutouts through his first 15 starts, Binnington fully usurped Allen. But, as Armstrong notes, he came along during that stretch when the Blues headed out on the road, took Berube’s messaging to heart and tightened up play without the puck in their own end. Despite their disastrous first three months, they wound up allowing 28.6 shots per game, the fourth lowest in the league for 2018–19. In all, Binnington faced 25 shots or fewer in 17 of 30 starts, which no doubt helped him toward his 24–5–1 record and 1.91 goals-against average.
Not to suggest that Binnington was simply lucky and along for the ride, he wasn’t and isn’t — he might have played his best 60 minutes in the playoffs in Game 4 against San Jose, stopping 29 of 30 shots in a 2-1 in St Louis win. Still, the notion he saved the Blues’ season overstates and oversimplifies. What is much harder to exaggerate is how desperately St. Louis slumped in the first half of the season. O’Reilly might have been alone among the core talents in not being a disappointment, matching his career high with 28 goals for the season, finishing the year with a plus-22 in a lineup with no other forward better than plus-8. “Centre was an obvious area where we needed an upgrade and he was the player that he was advertised to be, no doubt,” Armstrong says. “He’s a 200-foot player that a coach can fall in love with and put him out there in any situation.”
Originally published at https://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/st-louis-blues-2019-turnaround-playoffs-big-read/