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Ben Frederickson is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. You can follow him on Twitter (Ben_Fred), Instagram (benfredpd) and Facebook (BenFredPD).

Blues skate in critical Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington stops a wrap around attempt by Bruins Brad Marchand as Blues Colton Parayko defends during the third period of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday, June 6, 2019, between the St. Louis Blues and the Boston Bruins at TD Garden in Boston. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

BOSTON • Marcus Johansson’s reaction was a sign.

It will get lost, of course, because Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final went mad.

The story will shift to the men on the ice we are not supposed to notice, because that’s what happens when a league can’t seem to figure out how to find officials who can keep up with the cameras that catch what human eyes miss.

The discussion will stick on Tyler Bozak’s trip of Noel Acciari, and how and why things might have changed if a missed penalty didn’t help the Blues take a two-goal third-period lead in a game they won 2-1.

There’s just one problem there.

That story completely ignores the beginning and the end, and it omits the main character.

The Blues are not one win away from lifting the Stanley Cup for the first time because of a non-call. They are not one win away from becoming legends forever because a trip was missed. They left here 60 minutes away from breaking a curse because of a 25-year-old who wears No. 50.

Jordan Binnington is doing it again.The Blues’ rookie goalie is once more choking the life out of another playoff opponent as a series reaches its most crucial point. Johansson told us so.

Before the Blues had to dodge water bottles, before discarded rally towels fell toward the ice like snow, before fans wearing black and yellow went from trading high-fives to exchanging haymakers, Johansson offered a tell.

The Bruins were trailing 1-0 when the forward on Boston’s silent second line found a wide-open lane and launched his left-handed shot toward Binnington. It was the kind of shot that can make a goalie look like he’s buffering until the goal horn sounds. Binnington did look frozen at first.

He never moved. Didn’t need to. He was already in the perfect position.

Save made.

Easy.

Seven and a half minutes into a third period that was about to spiral into madness, Johansson responded to Binnington’s save by looking toward the TD Garden rafters, where the banners of the Bruins and the Celtics hang, as if to ask the sports gods of this championship-rich city if they have ever encountered an opponent like this. Johansson bent at his waist. He looked at his skates. His hands rested on his knees. And there it was, a sign of the crack before the chaos.

We will never know for sure what would have happened if Bozak’s trip of Acciari — a missed penalty but one that was not as obvious as some will make it seem — would have been called. We can, however, take an educated guess. The team with the better goalie would have won the game.

Advantage, Blues.

The Blues won, in part, because a whistle did not blow. They won, in part, because David Perron was the only player on the ice who played until the whistle did blow. They won because Zach Sanford, a Boston-area native who watched the first two games of this series from the press box alongside Post-Dispatch scribes as a healthy scratch, made a jaw-dropping first-period pass to teammate Ryan O’Reilly, who is playing like a man possessed.

But more than anything, the Blues won because Binnington plays for the Blues.

Binnington blanketed Boston until the third. He gave the Bruins one single breath when Jake DeBrusk’s one-timer from the circle hit the net with 6:28 to play. And then the goalie ripped hope away once more. Against a team that had found new life, beneath the roar of a crowd that was foaming at the mouth, Binnington faced five more shots on goal before the game’s end. He stopped them all.

What a trip! Blues on the brink of winning franchise's first Stanley Cup

Sean Kuraly tried and failed. Charlie McAvoy tried and failed. John More tried and failed. Torey Krug tried and failed. Twice.

In the biggest game in Blues history until Sunday, Binnington tied his hero Patrick Roy (1986) as one of four goalies who have 15 playoff wins as a rookie.

His ninth road win this postseason set an NHL rookie record.

His postseason-best 38-save performance, a Stanley Cup Final record by a rookie in a win, included a stuffed wraparound that stood the test of a review, a puck punched out of the air, a puck kicked to safety, multiple saves made while Binnington was being pushed out his net, and multiple saves made while Binnington was pushing Bruins out of his net. He lured Bruins troublemaker Brad Marchand into a slashing penalty. He held the Bruins' stellar power play to zero goals on three attempts.

"I don't really keep tabs," Binnington said when asked if this game was his best game.

One thing is certain. He's at his best when it matters most. The Blues are now 7-1 in Games 5, 6 and 7 during this run. Binnington has not allowed more than two goals in any of these eight games. He's now averaging 1.25 goals allowed in Games 5, 6 and 7. And here are his goals allowed in the five most-recent editions of those games: 1, 1, 0, 1 and 1.

Thursday's first period belonged to Binnington, and the importance of that can't be overstated. The Garden was a feeding frenzy thanks to the presence of Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, the defenseman who played with what is believed to be a broken jaw. Then Chara smashed Brayden Schenn moments into the game, and loud got louder. The Bruins out-shot the Blues 17-8 in that period. The B's were on the attack. The Blues were getting knocked around. At one point, the Blues iced the puck in desperation. At another point, they chipped the puck into the stands in a panic. When Marchand, who ripped four shots and put two on goal in that period, zoomed into Binnington after a save to give him a poke with his stick, you had to wonder how long the goalie could hold up. Long enough. Binnington smoothed a rough start like a Zamboni.

"We knew they were going to come hard," he said. "The first period was huge. We just battled it out, trusted each other and stayed with it. We got better as the game went on."

The Blues found their game in the second. They rolled their lines in short shifts, creating offensive zone time and stressful scoring chances. Their constant was in the crease.

Binnington got some luck, like when two pucks hit posts. He got some help, like when Carl Gunnarsson’s diving save cleared a puck as Binnington searched for his blocker. More than anything, the goalie who pulled this season away from the edge of disaster got the Blues here, to the precipice of immortality.

Binnington's final save came against Krug with seven seconds left.

Boston fans were already trickling toward the exits by then, which said a lot about how they figured this was going to end.

One young Bruins fan flashed Binnington a middle finger.

No. 50 was No. 1.

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