At the end of the playoffs, one team is celebrating the glory of becoming Stanley Cup champions and the others are left to determine what they need to do in the offseason to reach the ultimate goal for the following season.
Regardless of who won Game 7 between the Blues and Bruins on Wednesday night, one thing was certain about both teams: they had a goaltender capable of carrying his team and stealing a win on any given night.
Sure enough, Jordan Binnington held the Bruins off the board for nearly 58 minutes, making 38 saves in the clinching win. A number of his saves were off high-quality chances for the Bruins. His play in the first period in particular was the reason the Blues were able to win.
Binnington also made a stellar save with his right pad on Joakim Nordstrom with just under 10 minutes to play in the third that would have cut the Blues lead to 2-1. Brayden Schenn scored moments later to make it 3-0 and essentially kick off the celebration for St. Louis.
Binnington’s path to greatness started in Philadelphia on Jan. 7 when he made his first NHL start, a 3-0 shutout win over the Flyers. From there, Binnington continued to pile up wins and eventually left no doubt that he was the starting goalie.
In the playoffs, Binnington had a 16-10 record, a 2.46 GAA and a .914 SV%.
St. Louis’ rookie goalie had a fellow rookie counterpart in his first NHL start. At the time, Carter Hart was essentially a veteran in the game, making his seventh NHL start. Even with only six NHL starts under his belt, there was a sense that this 20-year-old kid was already establishing his spot on the roster and the future of the franchise.
It’s almost unfair to classify Binnington as a kid. He’s 26 years old and well-traveled in his career already. Sure, Binnington may not have had the NHL experience Hart did on that night, but he had been around. Hart was in his first season as a professional.
Whether you watched Binnington’s incredible story with the Blues or watched the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask continue to be a force in net in Boston, you saw two teams that didn’t have a question in net. For years, that has been the one part of the equation that has eluded the Flyers. The Flyers have a lot of work to do this offseason, but they don’t have to find their starting goalie next year and hopefully many more beyond that. Having stability in net is the foundation of a Stanley Cup team. That is perhaps the one thing the Flyers have going for them already.
Hart’s numbers did suffer toward the end of the year as he tried to come back from an injury and the defensive play in front of him was loaded with frequent breakdowns. But what you saw from Hart was similar to what you saw from Binnington: play with confidence, put positioning and puck tracking first to give yourself the best chance to make the save.
The Flyers can rest assured with Hart in goal. It’s the rest of the team that needs work. Because while goaltending may be the foundation, both teams playing in Game 7 had a lot of depth up front and solid defensive play in front of the goalie.
But, as it does quite often in the playoffs, it always comes back to the goalie. And in Game 7, a 26-year-old rookie, who beat the Flyers 20-year-old rookie in his first NHL start in January, was the one stealing the show.