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NHL Playoffs 2013: Best and Worst Goaltending Performances So Far

Brad KurtzbergContributor IMay 20, 2013

NHL Playoffs 2013: Best and Worst Goaltending Performances So Far

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    Goaltending is always a huge part of winning in the NHL, but its importance is magnified even further in the playoffs.

    We are now in the middle of Round 2 and already we have seen some outstanding play by netminders that helped their teams steal vital games.

    There have also been some dreadful performances by goalies that cost their clubs at critical times and even contributed to their failure to win games or advance to the next round.

    Here is a look at the best and worst goaltending games so far of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.

    Feel free to mention any games on either side of the ledger that you feel I may have missed and indicate why you feel that game belongs on either list.

    Because I try to remain optimistic, I have included 10 games on the best performances list and only five on the worst. We'll start with the five worst goaltending performances before finishing with the 10 best.

5. Marc-Andre Fleury, Game 2 vs. NY Islanders

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins were on a roll. They had won Game 1 of their series with the Islanders 5-0 and led midway through the first period in Game 2 by a 3-1 margin.

    Everything seemed to be going Pittsburgh's way. The Pens had a big lead and star center Sidney Crosby was back in the lineup for the first time in about a month.

    But then it all fell apart. Fleury allowed three goals, including the game-winner to Kyle Okposo midway through the third period, and the Islanders had pulled off an improbable 4-3 upset and were back in the series.

    It was the beginning of Fleury's struggles in the series, and suddenly, it was the Islanders who had gained confidence that they could compete with the highly-favored Penguins.

4. Henrik Lundqvist, Game 2 vs. Boston

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    The Rangers rely on Henrik Lundqvist to keep them in games, so when "The King" has an off game, it shows.

    In Game 2 against the Bruins, Lundqvist allowed five goals on just 32 shots, including the last three goals of the contest.

    The Rangers outshot the Bruins 37-32 but lost 5-2. To make things worse, Lundqvist injured his shoulder during third period of the game, although he did manage to finish the contest.

    Despite the off game, the Rangers brass remains confident in Lundqvist. "I don't need to evaluate Henrik,'' coach John Tortorella said via Yahoo! Sports. ''We know what Henrik is."

    Unless Lundqvist regains his usual form, the Rangers have little chance of getting back into their series against the Bruins.

3. Marc-Andre Fleury, Game 4 vs. NY Islanders

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    Marc-Andre Fleury continued to struggle and was benched after allowing six goals in a 6-4 loss to the Islanders. This poor effort by Fleury evened the series at 2-2.

    Pittsburgh actually led this game 4-3 early in the third period, but the Islanders scored three times in the final 20 minutes as Fleury took poor angles and just seemed to lack confidence.

    The Isles scored six goals on just 24 shots, giving Fleury a deplorable .750 save percentage.

    After the game, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma all but admitted his team needed better goaltending. "'We had swings in this game and some unfortunate bounces and some bad goals, but at the end of the day we let in six goals and that is way too many," Bylsma said via Yahoo! Sports.

    Fleury was benched after this game and has yet to appear in a playoff contest since.

2. Braden Holtby, Game 7 vs. NY Rangers

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    In the playoffs, Game 7 is a do-or-die situation. Well, for Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals, this Game 7 was a disaster.

    Holtby had allowed three goals by the first 5:34 of the second period and the Capitals were never really in the game after that.

    The final was 5-0 and the Rangers had scored five goals on just 27 shots. Four of the players who scored in Game 7 tallied their first goal of the playoffs.

    Holtby just didn't have it that night, and as a result, his team headed home earlier than expected.

1. James Reimer, Game 7 vs. Boston

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    Sometimes it's now how many goals you give up but when you give them up. Toronto goalie James Reimer's poor third period resulted in his team blowing a 4-1 third-period lead in Game 7 of its opening-round playoff series.

    The Leafs led 4-2 with just 1:22 left in the game when Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron scored just 31 seconds apart to tie the game 4-4.

    Bergeron scored again 6:05 into overtime and the Leafs had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

    It certainly wasn't all Reimer's fault, his team didn't play particularly well in front of him, but a goalie is payed to make big saves to preserve a lead late in a game.

    The fans of Toronto had waited nearly a decade for a playoff appearance and this collapse certainly left them disappointed.

10. Antti Niemi, Game 1 vs. Vancouver

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    Both the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks had fragile confidence as they entered their opening round playoff series.

    In Game 1, the Canucks led 1-0 early, but goalie Antti Niemi shut the door after that and helped lead San Jose to a 3-1 win. Niemi made 29 saves to earn the victory. The Sharks went on to sweep the series in four games.

    Canucks goalie Cory Schneider saw the value of Niemi during the series. "Their team starts with him," Schneider admitted via The Globe and Mail.

9. Jonathan Quick, Game 1 vs. San Jose

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    The Sharks outshot the Kings 35-20 in Game 1 of of their second-round series, but Jonathan Quick stopped all 35 shots and helped the Kings to a 2-0 win. It was his sixth career playoff shutout.

    The victory gave the Kings confidence which carried over to the next game which Los Angeles also won.

    For his efforts, Quick was named the game's first star.

    Kings forward Mike Richards realized how valuable Quick's performance was. "We didn't have our best first period, and it could have got out of reach quickly if Quickie wasn't back there making some big saves,'' said Richards via Yahoo! Sports. ''You could just tell he was seeing the puck well."

8. Craig Anderson, Game 3 vs. Pittsburgh

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    The Ottawa Senators were down 2-0 in their second-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins and returned home facing a must-win situation.

    Anderson had not played well in Game 2 of the series and was even pulled early after allowing three goals on just 21 shots in a little more than a period of work.

    But the Park Ridge, Ill., native bounced back quickly. Facing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla and the rest of an explosive Penguins team, Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson made 49 saves in a dramatic 2-1 double-overtime victory for the Senators.

    The win got the Senators back in the series, which they now trail 2-1.

7. Braden Holtby, Game 2 vs. NY Rangers

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    The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers were tied 0-0 after 60 minutes of Game 2 of their opening-round series and the game headed to overtime.

    Washington's Braden Holtby kept the Rangers off the scoreboard for all 68 minutes of the contest and emerged with a 1-0 shutout win when Mike Green scored on the power play in the extra session.

    The win put the Capitals ahead 2-0 in the series. Holtby gave up just one goal in the first two games of the series as his club jumped to the early lead.

6. Jonathan Quick , Game 3 vs. St. Louis

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    Jonathan Quick made 30 saves to record his fifth career playoff shutout as the Kings beat the St. Louis Blues 1-0 to get the Kings back into their opening-round series.

    There wasn't much room for error in this series. The defending Stanley Cup champions had scored only three goals in the first three games of the series, while Quick allowed St. Louis to score only four goals.

    In Game 3, Quick was the difference according to teammate Justin Williams. "'The story for us was Jonathan Quick," Williams explained via Yahoo! Sports. "That's the difference for us.''

    The Kings won the next three games and eliminated the Blues in six games. This shutout victory was the turning point.

5. James Reimer, Game 5 vs. Boston

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs were facing elimination in Game 5 against the Boston Bruins, trailing in the series 3-1.

    The Maple Leafs managed to take a 2-0 early in the third period, but then held on for dear life to win the game, 2-1. The Bruins fired 44 shots at Toronto's James Reimer and the goalie stopped 43 of them.

    In the third period, the Bruins outshot the Leafs 19-4, but Reimer stopped 18 of those shots to help his team stay alive and force Game 6.

    Sure, Reimer got a little help from the crossbar when Jaromir Jagr's shot clanked off it with 11.1 seconds left on the clock, but without Reimer's stellar play, Toronto would have never forced the series with Boston to go the full seven games.

4. Craig Anderson, Game 1 vs. Montreal

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    The Montreal Canadiens dominated much of Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series with the Ottawa Senators, but they didn't win the game.

    Montreal peppered the Senators with 50 shots on goal, 27 of them coming in the second period alone, but Craig Anderson made 48 saves and helped his team emerge with a 4-2 victory.

    After the game, Montreal coach Michel Therrien tipped his hat to the opposing goalie. "We played a good game and we deserved a better result,'' Therrien said via Yahoo! Sports. ''I'm proud of our team. We had 50 shots. We went to the net. But the story of the game was Anderson. He was extraordinary."

    The Game 1 win in Montreal set the tone for the rest of the series, which Ottawa won in five games.

3. Tomas Vokoun, Game 5 vs. NY Islanders

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    It's not just wins or shutouts that are important in the playoffs, it's the timing of those strong performances that often matters.

    Game 5 of the Penguins-Islanders series was a great example. After three poor performances by starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins found themselves locked in a 2-2 series struggle with the upset-minded New York Islanders.

    Coach Dan Bylsma decided to change goalies and start backup Tomas Vokoun in Game 5 back in Pittsburgh. Vokoun came through and stopped all 31 shots to help his club win 4-0. The victory put the Penguins up in the series 3-2 and they won the series in six games.

    Another game with poor goaltending and the Penguins would have suffered flashbacks to last year's playoffs when poor defense and goaltending led to a first-round exit at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. Instead, Vokoun stopped the bleeding and helped his club regain its confidence.

    Vokoun has started every game since and the Penguins are 4-1 in contests Vokoun has started.

2. Jimmy Howard, Game 7 vs. Anaheim

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    In a do-or-die Game 7, Detroit's Jimmy Howard came through for the Detroit Red Wings. Howard made 31 saves to lead Detroit to a 3-2 win and to set up a second-round matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks.

    The Ducks scored with just 3:17 remaining in the game to reduce the Detroit lead to one goal, but Howard made sure the Ducks never got the equalizer.

    Howard's experience was a big factor in the Red Wings victory. He personified the confidence a veteran team had in itself. "It just says there's no quit in this dressing room," Howard said via The Blade. "The belief in here is we can play with anybody."

1. Henrik Lundqvist, Game 6 vs. Washington

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    The Rangers trailed the Washington Capitals 3-2 in their opening-round series when they returned home for Game 6.

    The Rangers didn't give their goalie much of a margin for error. Derick Brassard scored the only goal of the game in the second period, but Lundqvist made it stand up and the Rangers won the game 1-0.

    Lundqvist made 27 saves to earn the victory.

    In the final minute of the game, "King Henrik" stopped Eric Fehr with a glove save and then denied Marcus Johansson a few seconds later to preserve the victory.

    Lundqvist went on to shut out the Capitals again in Game 7 to lead the Rangers past the Caps for the second year in a row.

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