If you’re looking for quality goaltending in the opening round of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, it appears the West is the best.
For teams to succeed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s accepted wisdom they must have quality goaltending.
Washington Capitals rookie goalie Braden Holtby has certainly epitomized that requirement. Indeed, his teammates owe the fact they’re poised to eliminate the heavily favored Boston Bruins to the heroics of their 22-year-old netminder, who entered Game Six with a 3-2 record, a 1.86 goals-against average (GAA) and .946 save percentage (SP).
His opposite number, Bruins starter Tim Thomas, hasn’t faced as much rubber in those games (141 shots through five games) as Holtby (185), but his numbers (2.05 GAA, .922 SP, 1 shutout) are very good, and up until the Bruins loss in Game Five, were nearly as impressive as Holtby’s.
In the NY Rangers-Ottawa Senators series, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been superb (2-3, 1.87 GAA, .945 SP, 1 shutout), while the Senators’ Craig Anderson (3-2, 1.79 GAA, .943 SP, 1 shutout) overcame a poor outing in Game One, and has been matching Lundqvist nearly save for save.
The other Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, however, have been a different story, where the goaltending ranged from average to just plain horrible.
The Pittsburgh Penguins-Philadelphia Flyers series may be the most intense and exciting of the lot, but it’s also featured the worst goaltending.
Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, once considered a clutch playoff performer, has had that reputation sullied with his horrific effort (4.70 GAA, .837 GAA prior to Game Six ) in this series, playing well in only one game.
His Flyers counterpart, Ilya Bryzgalov, has fared no better (4.54 GAA, .848 GAA prior to Game Six), as his playoff struggles dating back to last year’s woeful performance with the Phoenix Coyotes continues.
The Florida Panthers-New Jersey Devils series was expected to be a low-scoring affair in part because of the goaltenders involved.
Panthers netminder Jose Theodore developed a reputation for playing well in opening round action during his years with the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche, while Devils goalie Martin Brodeur is one of the greatest in NHL history, with three Stanley Cup championships and several records under his belt.
Yet prior to Game Five,Theodore played only two complete games in this series, with a 3.84 GAA and an .884 SP, though to be fair, those numbers are skewed by his short performance in Game Three. Those numbers improved (2.60 GAA, .919 SP) with his shutout win in Game Five.
Brodeur, meanwhile, had decent numbers in this series (2 wins, 2.32 GAA, .916 SP), which were affected by his shaky performances in Games Two and Three.
Most of the best goaltending performances thus far have come from the Western Conference.
The solid play of potential Vezina candidate Pekka Rinne (4-1,1.81 GAA, .944 SP) backstopping the Nashville Predators to a five-game elimination of the Detroit Red Wings served notice goals won’t be easy to come by against him this spring.
Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings has shown the Vancouver Canucks and the rest of the hockey world why he should be considered a serious contender for this year’s Vezina Trophy. Entering Game Five, his .953 save percentage and 1.77 GAA ranks among the very best among goalies with 4 or more games played this spring, and his performance is the main reason his Kings are in a position to knock the Canucks out of the playoffs.
To stave off elimination against the Kings, the Canucks turned to backup Cory Schneider, and his 1.01 goals-against and .969 save percentage in two games-played convinced coach Alain Vigneault to stick with him for as long as this series lasts.
Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes has his club on the verge of eliminating the Chicago Blackhawks and advancing to the second round for the first time since the club moved to Phoenix from Winnipeg. Through five games, Smith has faced the most shots (202) of all playoff goalies, yet sits with a 3-2 record, 2.13 GAA and .941 SP. His performance explains why some pundits considered him a potential Vezina nominee during the regular season.
The St. Louis Blues had the best tandem in the league during the regular season, which continued playing well against the San Jose Sharks. Before going down with a leg injury in Game Two, Jaroslav Halak had a 1.72 GAA and .935 save percentage. Brian Elliott took over without skipping a beat and backstopped the Blues to their first playoff series victory since 2002, posting three victories, with a 1.37 GAA and .949 SP.
If the Conference Quarterfinals are any indication, in the coming weeks we could see some intriguing goaltending duels between the Western-based teams.