Jordan Binnington has earned himself a piece of NHL history, and there’s a chance that by the time the Stanley Cup final is all said and done, the St. Louis Blues rookie will stand alone in the record books.
On Thursday, when Binnington slammed the door almost entirely shut with a 38-save performance in Game 5 against the Boston Bruins, the rookie netminder picked up his 15th win of the playoffs. With that, Binnington entered into what is now a five-way tie for the most wins by a rookie goaltender in a single post-season. Not only that, but with the Stanley Cup out of reach by just one victory, Binnington has the opportunity to enter into sole possession of the record by backstopping the Blues to their first NHL crown and become one of only a handful of freshman netminders to win the Stanley Cup.
Regardless of the outcome of the next few games, it’s worth wondering where his performance throughout these 2019 playoffs ranks all-time among rookie netminders given all that Binnington has already accomplished. Before we can do that, though, it’s important to outline some parameters.
First, this list is composed of rookie goaltenders from the beginning of the Original Six era and beyond who were competing in their first NHL post-season. So, if a netminder was still technically a rookie for Calder Trophy purposes, much like the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Matt Murray was during his second trip to the Stanley Cup final, it doesn’t count. First runs only.
Additionally, the rookie keeper can’t have simply appeared at some point in the post-season. He has to have played the majority of his team’s games. For instance, Andre Vasilevskiy’s 2015 playoff performance will not appear on this list. He skated in four games, but Ben Bishop was the Tampa Bay Lightning’s starting netminder and appeared in 25 games that post-season.
Finally, only netminders who meet the first two criteria and played in the final have made the list. No goaltenders who made first-round exits or put forth valiant efforts for teams that fell short in the division or conference final made the cut. So, apologies to Martin Brodeur, who was spectacular in the 1994 playoffs and came within one save – and one Devils goal – of making the cut.
13. Don Simmons, Boston Bruins – 1956-57
Simmons was outplayed badly in the final by his counterpart, Jacques Plante, as the Bruins lost the Stanley Cup final in five. Only twice in the series did Simmons allow fewer than four goals against, one of which was his Game 4 shutout of the Canadiens.
12. Bill Durnan, Montreal Canadiens – 1943-44
The Hall of Famer kicked off his career in style, capturing the Stanley Cup in his first season in the NHL. Lord Stanley’s Mug sat alongside another piece of hardware Durnan won that season: the Vezina Trophy. Durnan lost only one game all post-season. That said, he played only nine games and won playing behind a powerhouse Canadiens club.
11. Frank McCool, Toronto Maple Leafs – 1944-45
There’s probably an argument to be made that McCool belongs higher up this list given four of his eight wins were shutouts, but he was a 26-year-old rookie playing during the Original Six era. The talent pool was thinner and he wasn’t as fresh-faced as others on the list. Still, a remarkable performance that came complete with a Stanley Cup victory.
10. Mike Vernon, Calgary Flames – 1985-86
The lowest-ranking of the post-expansion keepers on the list. Vernon was good but not great during Calgary's run to the 1986 final. Granted, he faced a higher shot volume than most keepers in the post-season, but that doesn’t change the fact Vernon was significantly outplayed in the final by another netminder who appears later on in this list. No spoilers here, though surely a few readers are aware who we’re talking about.
9. Glenn Hall, Detroit Red Wings – 1955-56
Hall would be higher on this list if it wasn’t for an atrocious start to his Stanley Cup final. A 24-year-old rookie netminder at the time, Hall was walloped in Games 1 and 2 of the series against the Canadiens, allowing 11 goals across the first two games. He got it together as the series wore on and stopped all but seven of the 81 shots he faced across the final three games, but it was too little, too late. Detroit lost in five.
8. Rogie Vachon, Montreal Canadiens – 1966-67
Like Hall, Vachon’s ranking is impacted by his performance in the final. The Canadiens gave Vachon the reins to start the post-season and he ran with the opportunity, helping Montreal sweep the Rangers in the first round. In Game 5 of the final, however, he allowed four goals on 19 shots across two periods. In came Gump Worsley, and he finished up the series, which the Canadiens dropped in six to the Maple Leafs.
7. Pete Peeters, Philadelphia Flyers – 1979-80
The Flyers’ playoff hopes were largely moored to Peeters during the 1980 post-season, a sensible decision given his 29-5-5 regular season record and a performance that eventually earned him a third-place finish in Calder voting. He had some difficulties in the playoffs, however, particularly during the final. He surrendered at least three goals against in every contest he played against the Islanders. There were undoubtedly those left wondering what might have been if Phil Myre, Peeters’ backup who posted a .920 SP and a 5-1 record in the post-season, would have gotten the nod against New York.
6. Ken Dryden, Montreal Canadiens – 1970-71
Dryden’s rookie run is among the most magical in NHL history. The imagery alone is the stuff of legends. Dryden’s nonchalant stance, with his hands resting atop his goal stick, is iconic. And it all began during the 1971 playoffs when the big kid out of Cornell put on a show in the Canadiens’ crease and began one of the most dominant runs in NHL history. Dryden’s playoff debut saw him post a .914 SP and 3.01 GAA across 20 games, including a brilliant 31-save performance in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to help Montreal win the Stanley Cup.
5. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues – 2018-19
In making these rankings, a number of statistical categories were taken into consideration, such as wins, losses, saves, SP, GAA, shutouts, goals-saved above average and games played. (It’s more difficult to maintain a high standard of play over a longer period, after all.) Add it all up and Binnington finished fifth. However, if he wins one more game, takes the record for wins by a rookie netminder in a single post-season and puts forth a performance akin to the one he had in Game 5, where does he then land? Statistically, he has some ground to make up, but there’s an argument to be made that a Stanley Cup victory vaults him into the top-three, at least.
4. Ron Hextall, Philadelphia Flyers – 1986-87
Before we get into Hextall’s play, it’s worth noting one exceptional statistic. Hextall had 43 penalty minutes in the post-season as a rookie netminder. By comparison, the 2019 playoff leader was (and will be) Evander Kane. He has 61 penalty minutes, and the next-most penalized player is Timo Meier, who has 34 PIM. Take a second to think about that. Hextall really worked hard to earn his reputation as a netminder one would be wise not to cross.
He also earned his reputation as a standout keeper, too. Breaking into the league in 1986-87 after a season spent in the AHL, Hextall’s regular season brilliance captured him the Vezina and he followed that up by backstopping the Flyers to the Stanley Cup final. He was simply overpowered by the high-octane Oilers offense in the final, but he posted a .912 SP or better in a seven-game series.
3. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins – 2015-16
Murray is one of those rare players who was able to make a significant playoff impact before he even had a full NHL regular season under his belt. After making some starts late in the season and embarking on quite the rookie run, Murray got the call in the Penguins’ in Game 3 of the opening round against the Rangers and refused to relinquish the role, even after then-Pittsburgh starter Marc-Andre Fleury returned to action.
In the Eastern Conference final, it was the Penguins’ firepower as much as it was Murray that allowed Pittsburgh to advance past the Lightning, but the rookie netminder found his groove at the right time and stymied the San Jose Sharks throughout much of the final. There were only two games, one of which was an overtime defeat, in which Murray allowed more than two goals against during the final and he finished the series with a .920 SP on 138 shots.
2. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes – 2005-06
Desperate times called for desperate measures in Carolina, and after Martin Gerber had been picked apart by Montreal through four periods of the Hurricanes’ opening-round tilt with the Canadiens, the decision was made to run with Ward. And boy, did he make coach Peter Laviolette look like a genius. After giving up the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 2, Ward rattled of seven consecutive victories, during which time he posted a .951 SP. He backstopped Carolina past Montreal, past New Jersey, past Buffalo and into the Stanley Cup final against Edmonton.
The final was an up-and-down series for Ward, particularly shaky Games 5 and 6, but Ward had one of his best outings of the entire post-season in Game 7 of the final. Challenged 23 times in the Stanley Cup-deciding game, Ward stopped 22 shots to secure the championship for the Hurricanes. He won the Conn Smythe for his efforts.
1. Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens – 1985-86
Who else? Just look at the numbers. In his 20 appearances in the post-season, Roy went an outstanding 15-5, posted a .923 SP, 1.93 GAA and one shutout. Using goals-saved above average, as provided by Hockey-Reference, Roy had the best playoff performance of any first-year netminder. That he won the Conn Smythe was no surprise.
Oddly enough, Roy’s performance in the final was arguably his worst of the post-season. He was better than Vernon, who is listed above, but Roy allowed three or more goals in three of the five games it took the Canadiens to knock off the Flames. Of course, he did also post a shutout in Game 4 of the final, but he finished the series with a .904 SP.
As far as overall performance goes, though, Roy’s play remains the best of any keeper making his post-season debut, and it might be a long while before we see anyone challenge Saint Patrick for top spot.
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