NHL Playoffs 2012: Power Ranking the Playoffs' Starting Goalies

Peter MillsContributor IIIApril 11, 2012

NHL Playoffs 2012: Power Ranking the Playoffs' Starting Goalies

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    The NHL playoffs begin tonight, and that means 16 teams are prepping to make a deep postseason run.

    Once the games begin, the shooters will start scoring, the defenders will start hitting and the goalies will start being spectacular.

    After all, the playoffs do seem to bring out the best in goalies. Awe-inspiring performances have been put on—some by goalies on this list.

    Offense can take a team very far, but in the end, a team can't lose if it doesn't give up a goal. Goalkeepers are often the backbones of Stanley Cup teams, and there's no reason to think this year will be any different.

    Each of the goalies on this list was good enough to anchor a playoff team, which is impressive enough. But between this past season's play and playoff performances of the past, it's easy to see some goalies are a safer bet in the playoffs.

    A note: These rankings do not predict how each team will do, nor do they represent each goalie's skill. This is about what each goalie is capable of doing, what can be reliably expected of him and how good a chance he gives his team of winning a game.

    Rankings were based on 2011-12 season performance and career playoff performance.

    All numbers obtained via Hockey Reference, NHL.com and ESPN.com

16. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

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    2011-12 Season: 4-2-1, 2.49 GAA, .922 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: None

    This was not a difficult decision. Braden Holtby is hands-down the worst goalie going into the playoffs, simply because he's not yet a starting goalie. His entire career consists of 21 games.

    Holtby was thrust into the starting position after Michal Neuvirth was injured. Neuvirth was, of course, playing in place of the injured Tomas Vokoun.

    Holtby is an extremely promising young goalie—last season at age 21, he went 10-2-2. But his career has barely begun, and there's nothing to indicate he's mentally or physically prepared to backstop his team out of the first round.

15. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

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    2011-12 Season: 30-17-7, 2.72 GAA, .903 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 3-4, 2.26 GAA, .924 save percentage

    Crawford had a good-not-great season. He did manage 30 wins, but playing for the super-talented Chicago Blackhawks, better numbers are expected.

    He has very limited playoff experience, but his numbers are good there.

    Between the quality of his season and his lack of postseason-experience, Crawford does not look like a strong candidate to carry his team. Of course, the Hawks are far too good to count out, but if they succeed, it probably won't be because of Crawford's superb play.

14. Jose Theodore/Scott Clemmensen, Florida Panthers

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    2011-12 Season: 22-16-11, 2.46 GAA, .917 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 19-28, 2.82 GAA, .911 save percentage

    Florida Panthers' coach Kevin Dineen has been silent on who will start for the Panthers against the Devils. However, Jose Theodore got the majority of the starts this season, so he's the one being ranked.

    Theodore has a lot of playoff experience but has never had more than six wins in a postseason. He put up average numbers (with that slightly-inflated Panthers' save percentage) this season as well.

    The Hart Trophy winner has not been particularly impressive post-lockout, with the exception of 2009-10 when Theodore went 30-7-7 with the Washington Capitals.

    Clemmensen has three shots' worth of playoff experience. Should he get the nod from Dineen, he shouldn't be much of an improvement over Theodore.

13. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

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    2011-12 Season: 33-22-6, 2.84 GAA, .914 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 2-4, 2.62 GAA, .933 save percentage

    Anderson was a steady backstop for the pleasant surprise in Ottawa this season. That said, his goals-against average was way too high.

    As far as postseason experience, there's very little. He's put up decent numbers in his limited time.

    The Senators have a deceptively-talented squad that could be a real dark horse threat, but the Sens shouldn't expect anything beyond fairly consistent play from their goaltender.

12. Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers

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    2011-12 Season: 33-16-7, 2.48 GAA, .909 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 12-13, 2.55 GAA, .917 save percentage

    Ilya Bryzgalov was brought into Philadelphia on a large, long-term contract. For the team he's playing on, his numbers this year were not good enough.

    The Flyers have one of the deepest rosters in the league, and it wasn't until deep into the season that the team and goaltender both seemed to gel. Bryz got hot late, showing the type of play that earned him his contract.

    However, with no real playoff success to speak of, his inconsistent play has got to be a concern for Flyers faithful.

11. Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes

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    2011-12 Season: 38-18-10, 2.21 GAA, .930 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 1-1, 1.00 GAA, .958 save percentage

    Mike Smith had an excellent season in Phoenix, putting up great numbers and helping his team to a division title. Despite that, the 29-year-old has only two playoff games under his belt.

    Phoenix could be a threatening team, and if Smith is able to continue to play like he did this season, they could very well succeed. But his utter lack of experience is worrisome, and it's impossible to say how he'll act on a bigger stage.

10. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils

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    2011-12 Season: 31-21-4, 2.41 GAA, .908 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 99-82, 2.01 GAA, .919 save percentage

    It's hard to find the right place for Martin Brodeur. On one hand, he put up decent numbers in a tough division with the Devils this season. His playoff numbers are staggering (23 shutouts) to boot.

    But  it comes down to Brodeur's age. He is nearing the end of his career. Those career numbers do not represent what he's capable of but are rather a demonstration of what he was once able to do.

    Marty looked better as the season progressed and had a few vintage performances in there, but it's a long shot that he'll be able to show that brilliance with any sort of regularity in the playoffs.

9. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

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    2011-12 Season: 35-21-13, 1.95 GAA, .929 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 4-8, 3.32 GAA, .900 save percentage

    If only he had any playoff experience, Quick could be so much higher on this list.

    But alas, the Los Angeles Kings' keeper has minimal playoff experience and somewhat-awful numbers in that span.

    Of course, you also have to consider the season Quick is coming off of. With numbers that warrant Vezina speculation, including his league-leading 10 shutouts, Quick has kept his team afloat all season long.

    The Kings have some ex-Flyers and a few other pieces with a lot of playoff experience under their respective belts, but if they play anything like they did during the season, Quick will have to continue to stand on his head for the team to advance.

8. Jaroslav Halak/Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues

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    2011-12 Season: 26-12-7, 1.97 GAA, .926 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 9-10, 2.49 GAA, .923 save percentage

    Much like the Panthers, the choice for starting goaltender for the Blues has not yet been made, and so we will look at the numbers of the goalie who had more starts, Jaroslav Halak.

    Halak's still pretty young at 26 years old, but he already has more than 200 games under his belt. This season, he was part of the league's elite tandem with Brian Elliott.

    Halak also has to be remembered for a certain playoff run he made with the Canadiens in 2010, when he led the team to Game 7 victories over the top-ranked Washington Capitals and the uber-talented Pittsburgh Penguins.

    His Habs eventually burned out against the Philadelphia Flyers, losing in five games in the Eastern Conference finals.

    But the poise and skill that Halak displayed through the first two rounds was undeniable, and everyone will be looking to see something similar out of him this season.

    Can he do it? That remains to be seen, but with a much more successful team in front of him, there's reason to believe Halak could be one of the standout goalies this postseason.

    Of course, given that that was also his first attempt at leading a playoff team, it's not necessarily fair to expect that level of play every time out. Only time will tell with the young Slovak.

    Elliott had a superb season as well, posting a .940 save percentage and 1.56 goals-against average in just four fewer games than Halak. However, his playoff experience is both minimal and dreadful—he allowed 14 goals on 95 shots over the course of less than four games in 2010 with the Senators.

    Given Elliott's inexperience, Halak would seem like a safer choice.

7. Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks

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    2011-12 Season: 34-22-9, 2.42 GAA, .915 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 24-15, 2.89 GAA, .904 save percentage

    Antti Niemi entered the league in 2008-09 as a 25-year-old. He played three games that season.

    The next season, he slowly gained control of the Blackhawks' starting position, eventually backstopping them all the way to a Stanley Cup while accruing just six losses.

    In his lone playoff since then, he led the Sharks through two rounds, before falling to the Vancouver Canucks. Clearly though, the kid's got skill, and he knows how to perform in the postseason.

    His numbers this year leave something to be desired, considering the quality of his team, but they are still respectable numbers.

    With a dangerous offense that may or may not show up, Niemi could either coast or carry his team through the rounds. It's also completely possible they decide not to show up for the postseason at all—it wouldn't be the first time—and if that happens, Niemi will get to show off all that he's capable of.

    He'll certainly be tested by the Blues' offense, but he's stood tall in the past and may be able to keep his team going if his offense can chip in as well.

6. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings

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    2011-12 Season: 35-17-4, 2.12 GAA, .920 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 12-11, 2.63 GAA, .919 save percentage

    Jimmy Howard inherited a pretty sweet situation in Detroit. Taking over as starter in 2009-10, he immediately had a team in front of him that was capable of back-to-back Finals appearances.

    Since then, Howard's pretty much just kept moving forward. He has three-straight 35-win seasons, and this past season, he lowered his GAA by more than half a goal, going from 2.79 to 2.12.

    Unfortunately, Howard hasn't yet been able to translate that into a lot of playoff success. He's advanced to the second round in each of his two postseasons, but one has to wonder, how many NHL goalies are there that wouldn't advance a round with the Red Wings playing in front of him?

    Still though, wins are wins, and he has a few. But he has not been the dominant goalie that is now a staple of the regular season.

    Until that superstar shows up in the playoffs, it has to be assumed that he isn't ready for the biggest stage.

5. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

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    2011-12 Season: 43-18-8, 2.39 GAA, .923 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 8-10, 2.60 GAA, .908 save percentage

    Pekka Rinne has only been a starter in the league for four seasons, but boy, has he been impressive.

    Of those four seasons, he never had fewer than 29 wins, more than 22 losses, a save percentage lower than .911 or a GAA higher than 2.53. This season, he led the league in wins and saves.

    With Rinne, it's never really been a question of skill—he's clearly quite talented. The problem has always been the team in front of him. Too often, he ends up needing to stand on his head for a stagnant Nashville offense that has no flash.

    This year seems to be different from years past, and the Preds are looking like a deep, scary team.

    Whether they're good enough to win remains to be seen, but this is the best team that Rinne's played behind. And given the quality of his regular season, this may be his chance to break out as a playoff star.

4. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

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    2011-12 Season: 31-14-8, 2.41 GAA, .919 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 32-27, 2.50 GAA, .917 save percentage

    This is a tough ranking. On one hand, Bobby Lu is undoubtedly a great goalie. His lifetime numbers show that. However, he's also lost a lot. An awful lot.

    Part of that is because of the teams he's played for. With the Panthers, he had four-straight seasons of at least 30 losses. He also led the league in losses once as a Canuck. In total, he's compiled 283 losses in 727 games.

    His playoff record is a lot like his regular season record—a good number of wins, a surprisingly high number of losses and good stats. He's continually threatened in the playoffs, without ever winning.

    What makes him so difficult to judge is his volatility. At times during last year's postseason, he seemed unbeatable. He recorded four shutouts, after all. But at other times, he looked so godawful that backup Cory Schneider became a real threat to take over his job.

    If this were judging the tandem, you'd have to have faith in the Canucks. Lu's shown he can be strong in the postseason, and Schneider's shown he can step in and be huge when needed. But that's not what this is judging, and without the reassuring Schneider, Luongo looks a lot more vulnerable.

    He may step up and be huge this postseason, or he may not be the team's starting goalie by the second round. It's truly a mystery how the playoffs will turn out for Luongo. But as much as I hate the smug goalie, he's shown how incredible he can be.

3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

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    2011-12 Season: 39-18-5, 1.97 GAA, .930 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 15-20, 2.60 GAA, .909 save percentage

     

    Henrik Lundqvist has long been one of the elite goalies in the league. He's started for the team every year since the lockout, and has 30 wins each of those years. This past season, he had what many considered to be a Vezina-worthy performance (personally, I'd give it to Quick). What I'm saying is, the guy's good.

    And he's won on the big stage, as well. No, not the Cup finals. In 2006, Lundqvist led team Sweden to a gold medal.

    The problem is, that's about when he stopped winning important games. Lundqvist has made the postseason fives times, and only advanced out of the first round twice.He's never gotten more than two wins into the second round.

    It's very true that Lundqvist has been the best player on the Rangers for a while, and it's also true that the Rangers are a much better team this year than in years past; they have a deeper and more threatening offensive, an impressive defensive corps that features many young stars, and King Henrik still at his peak. With the team in front of him, there's not a whole lot of reason to think the Rangers can't go very deep into the playoffs.

    The only thing keeping Lundy from being higher on this list is his failure to make deep playoff runs in the past.

2. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

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    2011-12 Season: 35-19-1, 2.36 GAA, .920 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 26-17, 2.06 GAA, .935 save percentage

     

    Timmy put on quite a show in last year's playoffs, eventually winning the Cup and earning the Conn Smythe trophy.

    After last season's record-breaking numbers, Thomas's season started out extremely well—as well as last season. Then, in late January, a highly-publicized declined-invitation to the White House caused a firestorm of media attention around Thomas. It's impossible to say whether that had any effect on his season, but here's what the stats say:

    On January 23, Tim Thomas announced via his Facebook page that he would not be joining the team in their White House visit. Since that time, Tim Thomas has appeared in 28 games, posting a record of 15-12-1. During that time, he compiled a .903 save percentage and a 2.64 GAA.

    Consider his stats at season's end, and then consider how poorly he did in the second half. That's how good he is when he's on.

    So the only real question is, which Tim Thomas will show up? If it's last year's playoff hero, then the Bruins look just about as scary as any team in the league. If not, it's hard to see them getting very far at all.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    2011-12 Season: 42-17-4, 2.36 GAA, .913 save percentage

    Career Playoffs: 41-28, 2.52 GAA, .910 save percentage

    Marc-Andre Fleury. He's easy to hate, isn't he?

    Fleury is a representation of just how good a team can be when they have four-straight top-two overall picks. But bitterness aside, even without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading his attack, Fleury is a world-class goalie.

    Some forge that in the downright-epic 2003 NHL Draft—the one that provided enough superstars for the league for a couple of decades—Fleury went No. 1. And given his success, it's hard to argue with the pick.

    This year, Fleury did his same old thing, recording his fourth-straight 30-win season. His numbers were better than his career averages as well.

    And of course, he's a proven playoff-goalie. He made the finals in back-to-back-seasons, winning the Cup once. He earned 30 wins over those two postseasons, compared to just 14 losses.

    With Pittsburgh's big guns seemingly all lined up for the playoffs, there shouldn't be a ton of pressure on Fleury. However, he's shown in the past that he's capable of carrying the team when needed, and he should be as reliable a netminder as there is during the Playoffs.