Goalies for Sharks, Blues helped spark turnaround for each
SAN JOSE — St. Louis’ season started to turn around as soon as goalie Jordan Binnington came up from the minors to help lead the Blues from the bottom of the standings.
The key moment for their opponent in the Western Conference final came much later in the year, when San Jose coach Peter DeBoer made the decision to stick with struggling Martin Jones in net midway through the first round. Jones found his game and has helped carry the Sharks into the final four.
The decision to change goalies in St. Louis and stick with one in San Jose now has these two star-crossed franchises eight wins away from a first Stanley Cup title.
“When we put him in Philly as the starter, we haven’t looked back,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Friday on the eve of Game 1. “It would be disingenuous to say that this was anywhere part of the plan. This is the Jordan Binnington story in the sense that he’s made the best of the opportunity.”
Binnington was called up from the minors in December and then had a shutout in his first start against the Flyers on Jan. 7, becoming a big reason why the team in last place in the NHL on Jan. 2 is still alive.
He helped anchor an 11-game winning streak that got the Blues back into contention and became a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie at age 25. He’s been steady in the playoffs with a .915 save percentage and 2.39 goals against average.
“There were some years there where I wasn’t sure,” Binnington said when asked if he ever doubted he’d become an NHL goalie. “It took a lot of maturing and experience. I was in the right place.”
Jones came into the season with much pedigree, having led the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final just three years ago. But he was one of the worst goalies in the league this season with an .896 save percentage and then was pulled twice in the first four games of the opening round against Vegas.
But he rebounded from there with a .928 save percentage in the last 10 games, including a franchise-record 58 in a double-overtime win at Vegas that helped spark a comeback from 3-1 down in the series.
“There was never a doubt in anybody’s mind that he’d go out and play well,” teammate Logan Couture said.
DeBoer said all Jones needed was a few small adjustments as he had overcompensated from being too passive late in the season to being overly aggressive in the first four games against the Golden Knights.
Having found the happy medium and getting better support from his teammates, who have limited odd-man rushes, Jones is playing at a high level once again.
“It’s tough as a goalie, you want to go out and make a difference and make a big save,” he said. “You just have to be a little bit more patient and wait for the game a little bit more.”
Here are some things to watch in the series:
Both franchises have had their share of playoff disappointments. The Blues reached the Cup final their first three years as the top team in the all-expansion Western Conference but were swept all three times. They haven’t been back to the Cup final despite making the postseason 39 times since.