TORONTO — Two years ago, defenseman Vince Dunn scored the winning goal in overtime on a mad dash down the ice to complete his first game in his hometown arena against his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.
On Monday at Scotiabank Arena, another Toronto-area native — goalie Jordan Binnington — was in the same situation. Although not as dramatic as Dunn’s dash, Binnington was pretty special for 60 minutes. Playing against arguably the most skilled offensive team in the NHL, Binnington stopped 32 of 34 shots as the Blues held on (again) in the closing minutes to post a 3-2 victory Monday.
“Lights out,” captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “A lot of pressure obviously coming home. You guys have written about 50 stories on him, but ice in his veins. Nothing really seems to bother him. Tonight’s no different.”
OK, make it 51. Binnington got a little help from the post in the opening period on shots by Alexander Kerfoot and Auston Matthews. But he also stopped several breakouts by the Maple Leafs, survived several mad flurries around the net, and along with his teammates survived two Toronto goals in 24 seconds in the second period.
As usual, Binnington was emotional and passionate after a special evening . . . Not.
“It was good,” he said. “They’re a highly offensive team that gets some chances. Both teams had some good chances. (Frederik) Andersen played well, too. Kind of a fun atmosphere and happy to be playing in front of my (hometown) fan base here. Yeah, it was a good outcome.”
Was it what he imagined?
“Yeah, sure,” Binnington said.
Informed of Pietrangelo’s “ice in his veins” comment, Binnington conceded: “I like that quote. It’s a good one.”
Binnington is from suburban Richmond Hill, about 45 minutes from downtown Toronto. As a youngster, he’d attend a Maple Leafs game or two every year and his favorite player is former Toronto (and Blues) goalie Curtis Joseph.
His “fan base” consisted of about 50 friends and relatives Monday. With a new two-year contract worth $4.4 million a year, did Binnington take care of the 50 tickets?
“No,” came the quick reply. Then he added: “A couple. My mom’s the only one who couldn’t find tickets. She needs some friends around here, I guess.”
The most Canadian team in the NHL in terms of its roster, the Blues have no less than a half-dozen players from the Toronto area. On top of that, Tyler Bozak, Carl Gunnarsson and Alexander Steen once played for the Maple Leafs.
“I grew up here, coming down watching games,” Pietrangelo said. “I think when you first come in as a young guy you get nervous coming here, but now it’s exciting. These are things that you remember, so it’s pretty cool.
“It’s always fun getting a win here. ... It’s nice to leave with a bunch of smiles”
Lately, the Blues have left with nothing but smiles whenever they play the Maple Leafs, whether it be here or in St. Louis. Monday’s victory was their seventh in a row over Toronto.
“That’s a good stat,” Pietrangelo said.
An even better stat is the fact that the Blues have given up no more than two goals in any of those seven victories.
“They get their chances,” Pietrangelo said. “Binner was good tonight. We played strong defensively. We’re managing the puck the way it needs to be managed against a team like this. Everybody knows they got all the skill in the world. You can just watch it out there. But when we tighten up defensively and we’re playing with the puck, we seem to have success against them.”
Even with the yeoman’s work from Binnington, it was Pietrangelo who was the “Toronto” Blues player of the night. He scored the game-winning goal with 12 minutes 9 seconds to play from a tight, tight angle after a cross-ice, goal mouth feed from David Perron.
“I think that’s my first goal here,” said Pietrangelo, who overall has three goals and nine assists in 16 career games against Toronto.
“That’s a good play. We had a play right before that, we tried to do the same thing. We kind of drew that faceoff up before we went out there. This time it worked.”
It was the 23rd game-winning goal by Pietrangelo, who surpassed Al MacInnis for the franchise record for a Blues defenseman.
“That’s great company,” Pietrangelo said.
It was also his 400th career point, second only to MacInnis in franchise history.
“Those are always the things that are special,” Pietrangelo said. “And you do it in front of your family it’s even better.”
Although he started the game paired with Dunn on defense, Justin Faulk was on the ice with Pietrangelo for the game-winner. Faulk was supposed to play right defense with Pietrangelo on the left. But according to Pietrangelo, Faulk told him “ ‘I’ll go left side.’ He said, ‘You’re hot over there, so maybe just stay there.’ So that’s kind of why we just rolled with it.”
Without Pietrangelo on the right side, Monday’s game probably goes into overtime. But with a huge contribution from Saskatchewan, namely Brayden Schenn, the Blues (2-0-1) might have left town with a loss.
After those quick goals by Frederick Gauthier and William Nylander gave Toronto a 2-1 lead midway through the second period, Schenn scored with just 47.3 seconds left in the period to tie things at 2-2 after getting a clean look from the near slot.
“(Jaden) Schwartz went to work behind the back of the net and I was able to jump on a loose puck and able to put it 5-hole,” Schenn said. “A little bit of a rolling puck and just try to hit it as hard as you can and thankfully it went in.”
It was Schenn’s second goal in as many games since signing his $52.5 million contract extension. Should we expect more of the same now that Schenn’s contract status is resolved?
“Hope so,” he said.