Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Binnington was spectacular, Blues were not in 3-2 OT loss to Avs

Netminder nearly helps St. Louis steal Game 1 of second round series against 
Colorado, comes up short when Manson game-winner puts Blues in series hole

DENVER -- With each acrobatic save Jordan Binnington was making, there was a sense the Blues might steal one.

They didn't.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington makes a terrific left arm save off an attempt
by Colorado's Artturi Lehkonen on Tuesday in Denver.

Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round was all in favor of the Colorado Avalanche from the second period on. Had it not been for the heroics of Binnington, who knows how badly this series-opener would have turned out.

But Binnington's NHL career-high shots faced (54) and saves (51) weren't enough to save the Blues, who fell 3-2 in overtime when Josh Manson scored at 8:02 to give the home side the win and the series edge.

Aside from Binnington, and we'll get to him in a moment, the Blues simply weren't good enough. 

Plain and simple.

As the old saying goes: their best players weren't their best players. Not even close. And in saying that, they had some very solid performances, namely from Ryan O'Reilly, who scored for the fifth straight game and was the only one remotely even close to winning a face-off despite winning only 43 percent (12 of 28).

But let's get to the real good for the Blues, and that's their Stanley Cup-winning goalie of 2019, who lost for the first time after reeling off three straight wins in the first-round series against the Minnesota Wild, doing so with a 1.67 goals-against average and a blistering .943 save percentage.

To call Binnington's performance stupendous would not be serving it justice.

Binnington was downright sensational, and had it not been for his heroics, including his best save of the night at 9:35 of the third period on a rebound attempt by Artturi Lehkonen with his left arm at point blank range, the Blues would not have been in a one-shot game.

They would have been in a dozen shot game.

"Yeah, excellent performance. He kept us in the game," Blues coach Craig Berube said.

"He did a good job," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "He kept us in the game. Gave us a chance to win, that’s for sure. He made some big stops all night long. It was obviously a chance to get a game in the series. Obviously not the way it went."

O'Reilly was a factor again. He played 22:48 and had six shot attempts (five on goal) and was able to help keep the dangerous Nathan MacKinnon off the scoresheet.

But it was a number of glaring issues that didn't go unnoticed.

Let's start with the Blues' top-scoring line of Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko. That trio combined for 84 goals and 235 points in the regular season, but produced little to nothing offensively in Game 1.

They combined for four shot attempts (two blocked and two missed the net) and none on goal. Thomas was blitzed on face-offs, going 4-for-15 (27 percent).

"Yeah, like again, it's all about work and competing, really it is," Berube said. "You've got to fight for space, you've got to fight for pucks, especially this time of year and especially against this team. That's it. It really boils down to that, and being connected. You've got to have numbers around the puck. They're a little bit too spread out, too 1-on-1 and they're not trying to possess pucks enough."

The Blues just didn't close enough plays out when given the chance. Colorado's speed was a problem -- where have you heard that before -- and the Blues offensively simply didn't sustain nearly enough zone time.

"Yeah, we've just got to be better on the forecheck and we've got to, like I said, break pucks out more, and that’ll help us sustain more O-zone time," said Blues forward Jordan Kyrou, whose goal with 3:14 remaining in regulation on the power play tied the game 2-2. "I think we've got to do a better job on the forecheck, trying to stop pucks more. I think we were backing off a lot. Obviously, that gives them room and they’re a fast team so they’re going to take advantage of that."

And face-offs in general? Pretty paltry.

The Blues were 19 of 53, good for 36 percent, which is their second-worst percentage of the season.

It helped the Avalanche fuel their 106-45 difference in shot attempts.

"No, not (good) at all," Berube said. "We'll be better next game."

They better be, because two of Colorado's three goals came directly off not winning a face-off and spending time in the Blues' zone.

"You've got to make plays and you've got to get to the offensive zone more," Berube said. "We didn't get there enough tonight. They come with a lot of pressure. I think our forwards, they've got to work harder, they've got to get on pucks more and get to the offensive zone.

"... The first period, I thought we were good. Pretty good first period and then second period we just didn't make enough plays. Talked about it before the game like if you just put it out in the neutral zone, they're going to counter and they came at us with a lot of speed and didn't kill enough plays in the D-zone."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly (left) scores in the first period on Avalanche
goalie Darcy Kuemper in Game 1 of the second round in Denver.

But in the end, despite all the deficiencies, it was a one-shot game thanks to Binnington. It was a very Jake Oettinger-esque performance, referencing to the Dallas Stars goalie who nearly helped his team steal a series against the Calgary Flames with a Game 7 performance of the ages.

"Yeah, we're right there," Berube said. "You're one shot away in OT. I mean, that's the bottom line. Saader's almost in on a breakaway, and that could have been the difference right there. It is what it is, we'll regroup and get ready for Game 2."

"Just a little bit of everything. I don’t know," Parayko said. "Obviously you go back and look at it, there’s a lot of things that we can improve on, which is good obviously. It’s a long series.

"Obviously they have a good team. They’re fast. We have a good team. Been a good team all season long. So I expect there to be a lot of close games. And it’s going to be a tight series, so just look at the positives, drop the negatives and move on."

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