Jordan Binnington did all he could to keep the St. Louis Blues within striking distance of the Colorado Avalanche in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup First Round on Monday.
But even a herculean effort — 46 saves on 49 shots — wasn’t enough in a 4-1 loss.
The Blues, the No. 4 seed in the Honda West Division, entered the third period tied 1-1 with the No. 1 Avalanche because of Binnington, who made 31 saves through two periods.
“The way he played, we had a real good opportunity but we let it slip away,” Blues coach Craig Berube said.
Despite the loss, Binnington’s play certainly is something to rally behind against the Avalanche, who won the Presidents’ Trophy as the team with the best regular-season record in the NHL.
Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is in Denver on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN360, TVAS2, ALT, BSMW).
“If we’re better in front of him, we’re going to have a chance and beat these guys,” Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly said.
In 42 games this season (41 starts), Binnington was 18-14-8 with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. But he was 6-0-3 with a 2.39 GAA and a .918 save percentage in his final nine games.
“There’s never a doubt with ‘Binner,'” O’Reilly said. “He’s our best player. We know it’s there. We were right in that game, but a couple mistakes are in the back of the net. We’ve got to clean things up and adjust.
“I’ve got the most confidence in him that he’s going to … we saw it tonight. We saw how good he is and the saves he makes. If we make fewer opportunities for them, it’s only going to make it easier on us and him.”
Binnington helped St. Louis win the Stanley Cup in 2019 but was 0-5 with a 4.72 GAA and an .851 save percentage in five games in the playoffs last season. It ended with him getting pulled 8:06 into the second period of Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round against the Vancouver Canucks after allowing four goals on 18 shots in the Blues’ season-ending 6-2 loss.
That play looked like a distant memory Monday.
The Blues were outshot 50-23 on Monday, 18-7 in the third period. Players realize they need to be more determined in limiting the Grade A scoring chances in order to give their goalie a chance.
“Obviously Binner played unbelievable,” Blues center Tyler Bozak said. “Tied going into the third, on the road, we had a chance. Just too many little mistakes. Obviously they’re Presidents’ [Trophy] champs for a reason. They created a lot of offense and create a lot of opportunities and we just have to be a little tighter and try and limit some of that.”
Colorado’s top line of center Nathan MacKinnon and forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen did most of the damage, accounting for eight points (three goals, five assists) and 16 shots on goal.
MacKinnon, who returned to the lineup after missing the final two games of the regular season, and four of the final five, with a lower-body injury, had two goals and an assist.
“We believe in what we’re doing and ran into hot goalies earlier in the year as well,” Landeskog said. “For us, it’s find a way. Keep shooting the puck. It’s not going to start going in because you start over-passing or looking for the perfect play. You’ve got to keep throwing pucks there and I thought we did a good job of that. We got rewarded in the third.”
The Blues were on their heels much of the night and Binnington was forced to make several saves from close range, including a number of high-danger chances from the slot.
That included robbing Rantanen by lifting his left pad on a 2-on-0 chance at 10:10 of the second period with the Blues down 1-0.
He made another big save, on Tyson Jost‘s backhand on a breakaway with 1:07 left in the second, and then while laying on his belly trapped the rebound between his pads after Jost batted the puck out of the air.
“We lost numbers a lot of times tonight, let them come down on the rush with odd-man numbers against us,” Berube said. “It’s tough. We’ll be better. We’ve got to manage the puck better than we did. Our execution wasn’t good with the puck, and then just on the defensive side of things, we let them come out of their zone way too easy and created odd-man rushes against us.”