By LOU KORAC
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Jordan Binnington will make his first appearance in a Stanley Cup Playoff game when the Blues and Winnipeg Jets open their best-of-7 Western Conference, and what should be the most important time in his life as an NHL player was a bit sidetracked for tweets he made as an 18-19-year-old.
A reporter that covers the San Jose Sharks said he happened to have "come across" tweets Binnington made in 2013 and 2014 that are racially insensitive. The Winnipeg Free Press ran a story on what they viewed as "controversial" tweets from reporter Paul Gackle, who grew up in Winnipeg coincidentally but now covers the San Jose Sharks, that originated on his Twitter account (@GackleReport).
Binnington, who will start Game 1 here at Bell MTS Place today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KYKY 98.1-FM), addressed the situation.
"It was a while ago and I was a teenager," Binnington said when asked by a CBC television reporter. "It was a while ago and I was a teenager. It was a little sarcasm joking around when I was a teenager. That's what life's about. You live and you learn and you grow as a human. I'm just here to play a couple hockey games."
And when asked how this would affect his performance here tonight, the 25-year-old netminder, who deserves considerable notoriety as a potential Calder Trophy candidate after going 24-5-1 with a 1.89 goals-against average and .927 save percentage this season, moved on.
"We're just preparing for the game tonight," Binnington said. "Obviously it's a big playoff series. We're happy to be in the playoffs. It's an exciting time of year and this is when you want to play."
Blues interim coach Craig Berube quickly put it all to rest too.
"He’s already addressed it," Berube said. "I'm just taking hockey questions."
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And so that's that, and the Blues are moving on, ready to battle in what should be an epic series between teams that finished with 99 points each.
The Blues, who went 1-0-1 in this building this season, including a 1-0 win the last time these two teams played on Dec. 7, are confident but know they will have to weather an early storm of the Jets and their fans ready for a White Out.
"A little bit, but we're going to have our own little storm coming," Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson said. "We have lots of energy right now. A couple days to rest up, and we're just as excited as they are. Two teams that finished with 99 points in the regular season. It doesn't really get much better than that. It's going to be a toe-to-toe battle. We're looking forward to it. We've just got to play our game, not worry about what they're doing. But it would be nice to take the crowd out of it right away."
The Blues build their game from goal on out, and if Binnington can go toe-to-toe with Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck, then the Blues can build their brand and hope to dictate how they want the game to be played.
"Playoffs are just a battle, right," Binnington said. "You just got to stay composed and worry about what's in your control and prepare for every game the same and play as a team. That’s what we’re focused on.
"It’s the NHL, it’s the best league in the world. You’ve got to be expecting anything. I’m just going to prepare my way and worry about my game tonight."
Finishing the season 30-10-5 too should also breed confidence for the Blues, who play the Jets in a playoff series for the first time since 1982, a series the Blues won 3-1 when opening rounds were a best-of-5 series.
"I think we just really became a real good hockey team on the ice for … there was a stretch there where we were on the road for almost two months, and it was pretty impressive just going through that stretch and winning as much as we did on the road," Berube said. "... We haven’t played here for a while. I don’t think a lot has changed with the style of play. They’re a big team, a lot of good skill, a real good power play. It’s a big challenge."
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It's a homecoming for two Blues, one from here and one two hours away.
Alexander Steen, born in Winnipeg and son of famous Jets center Thomas Steen, gets the chance to spend some time with family and friends while the Blues are here through Friday.
"It’s going to be fun. Exciting," Steen said. "It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the White Out. It will be exciting.
"I was here until I was about 11 years old, so I saw a few of them (Jets games)."
Edmundson was born in nearby Brandon, Manitoba, a two-hour drive to the West of Winnipeg. His parents, Bob and Lois Edmundson, will be in attendance.
"Two-hour drive. I live two hours west of Winnipeg," Edmundson said. "All I know is my parents will be here. It was kind of last-minute. We didn't find out we were playing Winnipeg until a few days ago. It was tough for people to get off work or make it into town in time. All I know is my parents will be here. Family will be watching on TV. I'm not really sure who else is going to be here. I'm just looking forward to it. My family, most of them are Jets fans, but whenever we're in town, they cheer for the Blues.
"Throughout the season, I have lots of family come (here) because they can plan it better, but when we're not in town, they're cheering for the Jets. It's Manitoba's team. As soon as we're in town, that all changes."
The Blues' projected lineup:
Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Oskar Sundqvist-David Perron
Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas
Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Alexander Steen
Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson-Robert Bortuzzo
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robby Fabbri, Carl Gunnarsson, Michael Del Zotto, Sammy Blais, Mackenzie MacEachern and Chris Thorburn. The Blues are report no injuries.
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The Jets' projected lineup:
Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Mathieu Perreault-Kevin Hayes-Nikolaj Ehlers
Andrew Copp-Bryan Little-Patrik Laine
Par Lindholm-Adam Lowry-Jack Roslovic
Josh Morrissey-Jacob Trouba
Ben Chiarot-Dustin Byfuglien
Dmitry Kulikov-Tyler Myers
Connor Hellebuyck will start in goal; Laurent Brossoit will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Matt Hendricks, Nathan Beaulieu, Joe Morrow, Bogdan Kiselevich, Sami Niku and Eric Comrie. Brandon Tanev (finger/hand) is out.