LOS ANGELES, CA (AFP) — Goaltender Jordan Binnington made 32 stops as the St. Louis Blues captured their first Stanley Cup in franchise history with a 4-1 game seven win over Boston that capped a storybook season.
Captain Alex Pietrangelo and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly each had a goal and an assist as an improbable Blues turnaround saw them go from the worst team in the NHL in early January to claim their first championship in their 52-year history on Wednesday.
“I can’t believe where I am right now,” said Binnington. “It is an incredible feeling.
“We did it. I can’t wait to get back to St. Louis and celebrate with the whole city.”
Binnington said the Cup, which weighs 15.5 kilos (34 pounds), was heavier to lift over his head than he expected.
“I haven’t done an upper body workout in three months. I got it up there and am going to lift it up a lot more times,” he said.
Binnington barred the door as the Bruins outshot the Blues but couldn’t beat the Canadian rookie, who didn’t become the team’s starting goaltender until halfway through the season.
Pietrangelo and O’Reilly, who won the award as the playoff MVP, scored goals in the final four minutes of the opening period to give the Blues a 2-0 lead despite being outplayed by a fired up Bruins offence in front of a crowd of 17,500 at the Boston Garden.
Boston goalie Tuukka Rask was tremendous in a game six win but allowed four goals on just 20 shots, including two goals on four shots in the first.
The 25-year-old Binnington looked like a seasoned veteran, making several clutch stops in the first off David Krejci and Marcus Johansson who got behind the St. Louis defence but couldn’t beat him in close.
With the Blues ahead 2-0 in the third, he made another sensational stop on Bruins forward Joakim Nordstrom. The save took the life out of Boston crowd and then Brayden Schenn silenced them with his only goal of the game to make it 3-0 with 8:35 remaining.
It has been decades since the Blues marched into the Stanley Cup final — 1970 to be exact when they lost in four games to Boston in a suspense-filled series that culminated with a high-flying Bobby Orr game winner.
The Blues were swept in all three of their previous finals appearances.
“I thought our guys were really resilient,” said Blues coach Craig Berube.
“Everybody is going to be nervous to start the game. They (Boston) were nervous. I told my guys ‘listen, you guys all played game seven in your heads 100 times growing up, and you all won, and you were the hero’.”
The Bruins were looking to capture their seventh NHL championship, having last hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2011, the last time the finals went to a game seven.
“We needed a goal earlier in the game. It didn’t come until too late,” said Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara, who played with a broken jaw.
Blues forward O’Reilly tipped a shot from point through the legs of Rask at 16:47 to open the scoring.
Sammy Blais started play with a strong forecheck and passed to the point to Pietrangelo who slid it over to Jason Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester’s wrister was redirected by O’Reilly through the legs of Rask.
The Blues went up 2-0 with eight seconds left in the first, when Pietrangelo jumped up into the offence and scored on a backhand to the top half of the net. Jaden Schwartz dropped a pass for Pietrangelo who went forehand to backhand and put it over the shoulder of Rask.
Schenn then scored from the slot to seal the win for the Blues. Schenn took a perfectly timed pass from Vladimir Tarasenko and blasted a one timer past Rask.
His goal came just moments after Binnington sprawled out to make a sensational stop on Bruins Nordstrom which would have made it 2-1.
Binnington’s play came as a surprise to everyone but himself as heading into the postseason he was considered to be the Blues’ weak link only because of his lack of big game experience.
“I just wanted to try the best I can,” said Binnington. “Sometimes it is not going to work out. But I am going to keep pushing.”
© Agence France-Presse