It hasn’t been nearly long enough to forget that Jordan Binnington was found money.
Where it was unflinching confidence that teetered often toward a mild arrogance while keying the St. Louis Blues’ miraculous turnaround season — which of course culminated in the franchise’s first Stanley Cup after a Game 7 victory over the Boston Bruins — this was still a netminder who was not long before that humiliatingly designated for an ECHL assignment. It was one which he would famously refuse, of course, resulting in his loan to another team’s farm system, just for the reps.
He was hardly the first choice when there was an immediate need for goaltending with the big club as it staggered toward the midpoint of last season. But because the prioritized netminding prospect, Ville Husso, was headed for surgery, it was Binnington who received that desperation call.
You know how the rest of the story goes.
But aside from the injuries, what it was that really precipitated that need for goaltending was the continued unravelling of Jake Allen.
His best seasons played several years before while part of a platoon, Allen was quite clearly failing in his transition to a full-time starter. He was left at home during one of the club’s road trips to “reset” two years before Binnington ever showed up, then followed that forgettable season up by being decidedly outperformed by his backup, again.
However which way it was added up, Allen was undermining the abilities of a roster now proven to have a Stanley Cup ceiling.
And yet now one year later, without an injury to speak of, Allen is being looked at to fill that feature role for a team with the same championship aspirations.
After Binnington’s rocky performance in the seeding round spilled into their opening-round series versus the Vancouver Canucks, Blues coach Craig Berube turned to the regularly unreliable Allen to prevent the defending champions from falling into a 3-0 hole. It was an enormous decision, and one likely mighty difficult given everything that Binnington has meant for the franchise.
But it’s proven to be the right one. Because Allen did what he’s quietly done all season in his unexpected Game 3 start, which is to provide quality goaltending when called upon.
And then he did it again.
After responding to the challenge with 39 saves on 41 shots across 75 minutes in a white-knuckle clash that stretched late into an overtime period, Allen backed up his Game 3 victory with another strong performance on the second half of a postseason back-to-back in Game 4, making 21 saves to help the Blues even the series on Monday night.
It was a brilliant defensive performance in front of Allen from the Blues, who finally slowed Vancouver’s offensive roll after a brilliantly potent six-game showcase to begin the NHL’s restart.
But just because the Blues suddenly recaptured that championship-level clamp on the competition should not for a second diminish Allen’s role in rescuing St. Louis’s season, or for that matter, the brilliant campaign he’s had under humbling circumstances.
Allen made 24 appearances in the health crisis-shortened regular season, allowing just 48 goals. He won 12 games and picked up at least a point in 15 of his 21 games of record, while posting the best save rate of his entire career with a .927 percentage before the remaining games were cancelled.
Like many of his backups when he was holding down the featured position, he boasted numbers that far exceeded the work of Binnington, who was merely average in his first full season in the NHL, despite the impressive record.
Supporting his past record, it has only been evidence to suggest that Allen is properly slotted in a tandem or as an elite backup in the NHL.
But for the time being, he’s much more than that. Because if the Blues are to survive the first round — and perhaps embark on any meaningful run — it appears very likely it will be on Allen’s back.
And it would be quite fitting from the Blues, who have been at their best when superb goaltending comes from an unexpected source.
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