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St. Louis Blues take on Boston Bruins

St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington (50) blocks a shot from Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) during the second period of a game on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 at the Enterprise Center. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

A quick cruise through the Boston Bruins' initial thoughts on their Stanley Cup finals date with the Blues revealed an interesting theory.

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington needs more motivation like I need more cookies from the press box buffet, but here were the Bruins, serving some up in their first comments about facing the Blues.

A story line that will get a lot of play in this series, for good reason, is the rise of Binnington, the 25-year-old rookie who helped the Blues go from worst to no worse than second when all is said and done. Binnington's climb from fourth on the Blues' organizational depth chart to cornerstone in the crease is a remarkable story, one the national media will learn now that Joe Thornton is golfing.

One particular stop on Binnington's long, winding road to prominence is going to get a lot of play: Providence. Last season, before the Blues realized what they had in Binnington, and because their American Hockey League affiliate was in a time of transition, Binnington was loaned to the Bruins' AHL affiliate in Providence. Wait. What?

“When you go into a year, you want to have four or five goaltenders in your group, just for injuries,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong told Jim Thomas of the Post-Dispatch earlier this season. “It was a perfect storm in a negative way for Jordan quite honestly. We didn’t have our own American League affiliate. So we had (Ville) Husso as our primary (prospect) goaltender at that time. We wanted to put (Husso) in with the core of our players that we were sending to San Antonio. And we had to, for (lack of) a better term, farm Jordan out to a place where we thought he’d get some games. And that was in Boston’s organization — in Providence.”

Binnington got a start or two a week in Providence. He became that team's best goalie. He made headlines when he flashed his fire in a goalie scrap. (Are you sensing a theme?)

Flash forward.

A few of the temporary teammates Binnington had in Providence are now with the Bruins. The coaches in Boston's system are more familiar with Binnington than most. Could this be a disadvantage for the Blues?

“I’d like to think that’ll help,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters Wednesday. "There is a little extra there. I don't think it will affect Binnington much. He's playing well. I'm sure he's going to be on his game — even though it might be a little more inside information we will have than maybe a San Jose did. At the end of the day, it can't hurt, right, to have a little experience with him (Binnington) on some little details?"

Cassidy added that Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa might have a specific advantage because of Binnington's brief history with the organization.

“Bob has done a good job evaluating goalies for us," Cassidy said. "I’m sure he’ll get us dialed in, without the guys over-thinking. Hopefully we can expose him."

Knowing Binnington a little bit, comments like these are quickly turned into fuel for a tank that is always full.

Here are former Blues captain David Backes' first comments about facing his old friends in the Stanley Cup finals:

"There are going to be heightened emotions," Backes told reporters on Wednesday. "It's a binary decision now. It's us, or them. There is no third party. No ties. None of that stuff. One of us is going to win the Cup, either the St. Louis Blues, or the Boston Bruins. That's the position you want to be in at the beginning of the year. We're in that position. Wish those guys well up to this point, but now it's all about us winning this thing."

Backes shared what he told Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, one of his best friends.

“I told him I love him now, and I'm going to love him afterwards, but I’m going to hate him for the next three weeks here,” Backes said. “And I think that’s a mutual decision. We’re going to battle our butts off for this ultimate prize, and we’ll patch up whatever needs to be patched up afterwards."

Added Bruins coach Cassidy: "He's got good friendships in that room, but that will all go out the window. Where he is at the stage of his career, and anybody's really, but particularly him, who has been through it. He doesn't know when he's going to get another kick at the cat here. I think that will be the biggest motivating factor for him, to get his name on the Stanley Cup."

No foul there.

In fact, it's quite similar to what Vladimir Tarasenko said about Backes after the Blues dismissed the Sharks.

"On ice, there's no friends," Tarasenko said. "We're not friends. It's going to be hard finals. That's what we need to focus on."

There is some angst in Beantown regarding The Wait. By the time Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals arrives at TD Garden on Monday, the Bruins will have gone 10 days without a game. Recent history suggests teams that sit become teams that lose. The Bruins are scrimmaging on Thursday to stay fresh. They are even selling tickets for the glorified practice. Cassidy has also called up the New England Patriots to see how they manage their downtime during the long wait for a Super Bowl. So, the Blues should be sure to sweep the visiting dressing room for cameras.

Cassidy sees a lot of similarities between the Bruins and the Blues. "They are a forechecking team," he said. "They play pretty North-South. They use all four lines. Their fourth line, particularly, gets a lot of assignments, like ours. Goaltenders are both playing excellent. Their D is bigger than ours, but both can move the puck. I expect the games will be lower scoring, more physical. I think they are a bit of our twin, so to speak, the way they balance their minutes."

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