Blues goaltender proud to be public enemy No. 1 in Winnipeg

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It's a long-held hockey tradition around these parts: Fans at Bell MTS Place identify the so-called villain on the other team, then boo the heck out of him every time he touches the puck.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/04/2019 (1328 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s a long-held hockey tradition around these parts: Fans at Bell MTS Place identify the so-called villain on the other team, then boo the heck out of him every time he touches the puck.

Jordan Binnington wasted no time adding his name to the ever-growing list that includes NHL stars such as Marc-Andre Fleury, P.K. Subban and Corey Perry, although how he got there might be nearly as surprising as his rapid rise to the NHL, which helped save the St. Louis Blues’ season.

The rookie goaltender became the subject of full-throated scorn after he had the audacity to get steamrolled by Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele just 34 seconds into Game 1 of their best-of-seven playoff series Wednesday night.

Patric Laine's shot to the top right corner of the net was the only puck that got by Jordan Binnington on Wednesday. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Binnington was attempting to play the puck — something that quickly became apparent he loves to do — when Scheifele accidentally caught him in the trolley tracks. Binnington crashed hard to the ice, Scheifele was sent to the penalty box, and the temperature quickly went up about 100 degrees in the series.

And Binnington, at least in the eyes of Jets fans, was suddenly a marked man. It appears he loved every single second of it, as the boos rained down every time he ventured from his crease to stop a Winnipeg dump-in.

“Yeah, that was kind of cool. They’re passionate fans and it’s a passionate city. It makes the game fun. That’s what sports are about,” the 24 year old said Friday.

It takes a special breed to be an elite goaltender, and Binnington clearly has both the physical and mental acumen required for the position. He was calm, cool and collected in his playoff debut despite it being in a hostile environment with more than 15,000 hoping to see him fail miserably.

“It was an exciting atmosphere. Fans were excited right off the bat,” said Binnington, who admits to battling a few early nerves. He stopped 24 of 25 shots, with only Patrik Laine beating him.

“Once we got our game going and got comfortable, it was good, but every game is going to be a battle. We’re going to prepare the same way,” he said.

As for the collision with Scheifele, there’s no hard feelings.

“It’s playoff hockey, so stuff’s going to happen,” said Binnington. Scheifele has previously said he just ran out of real estate and meant no harm.

Heading into Friday night’s game, Binnington is now 25-5-1 on the year with the Blues since being called up in January from the AHL, giving up just 60 goals in 33 appearances. The soft-spoken netminder from Richmond Hill, Ont. said he can’t take all the credit, praising the work of the veteran defensive core in front of him that includes stars such as Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester.

Mark Scheifele ran over Jordan Binnington 34 seconds into the first game of the series Wednesday as the St. Louis goalie was attempting to play the puck. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“They’ve been consistent all year long. We’ve really come together nicely. It’s a whole group effort. A pretty simple game, try to play as a team, and it’s working for us,” said Binnington.

And that regular-season success clearly carried over into the start of the post-season. According to Parayko, the energy inside the building can be a motivator for the road team, too.

“The crowd is fun for both sides, it’s fun for us too. I think it’ll be good. They’re loud and I expect them to be loud again,” he said Friday afternoon of what he was expecting in Game 2.

Defenceman Vince Dunn, now in his third year of pro hockey, skated in his first NHL playoff game Wednesday night. Like Binnington, the 22 year old said it was a bit of an eye-opener to experience it in enemy territory, especially in Winnipeg’s hockey-crazed environment.

“It’s just like a whole different perspective. Everyone’s taking things a lot more seriously, from the players all the way to the coaching staff. The intensity’s a lot higher and everyone’s doing the little things that maybe they didn’t do every game in the season,” said Dunn, who is on the top blue-line pairing with Pietrangelo.

“I think overall everyone’s giving their complete game, so it’s a lot different energy on the ice and all the plays are coming a lot faster now and guys are starting to be a little more physical than they usually are. Both teams are really going at it and giving it their best, so for me it was just kind of taking it all in and not trying to overwhelm myself with everything and just kinda sticking to what I did well in the season, and just putting myself in a good spot when I was out there.”

Blues coach Craig Berube said his squad passed its first test, but the work is only going to get more difficult as the series goes on. He was especially impressed by the third period, when they rallied from a 1-0 deficit to score twice and take the game, not to mention the discipline shown by his group, who took only one minor penalty on the night — and a very iffy one at that on a borderline cross-checking call against Tyler Bozak, who scored the winning goal.

“Yeah, you don’t want to go to the penalty box, you’ve got to keep your emotions in check and we’ve got to be disciplined. They have a real good power play, we all know that. So we don’t want to cross the line, but we want to be a hard team to play against and a physical team, too,” said Berube.

The wild and loud crowd at Bell MTS Place is fun for both teams, says Blues defenceman Colton Parayko. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

And that includes following the lead of their goalie and keeping their cool even when things don’t always go smoothly.

“(Winnipeg) is a hard forechecking team, they come hard and they’re physical, so it’s not going to be the clean breakouts like you want. You’re going to have to grind it out of there sometimes, it’s not going to be clean all the time. They’re a big, heavy team that forechecks hard, so you find different ways to get it out of your zone,” said Berube.

“We’re in their rink and they’re jacked up with their fans and everything. I mean that’s expected. I thought we were physical, too, so I’m not too worried about it.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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