Ranking the 5 Most Clutch Goaltenders in Detroit Red Wings History
Throughout NHL history, goaltenders have been the catalyst for a team’s success and failures.
Some of the best in NHL history are decorated with various trophies, league records and numerous honors.
Sometimes the goalie is the reagent for a team. The Conn Smythe Trophy, presented to the MVP of the playoffs, has been awarded to a member of the losing team five times—four of which were goalies.
Goaltending has been a “Jekyll and Hyde” position for the Detroit Red Wings. The organization has won 11 Stanley Cups with seven different starting goaltenders in its 88 years in the NHL.
While it may not be the Wings' most valued position, it has always been one of the most scrutinized.
Detroit has sported some Hall of Fame lineups in the past, providing solid play in front of its netminders. However, a capable goalie was necessary to stop the puck and secure its history among the NHL’s best.
A clutch performance is always one for the ages. Whether an individual moment, a daunting task or a single game, a player’s ability to make plays when it matters most can be the difference between unbridled joy and agonizing defeat.
Some Detroit goaltenders have elite numbers while others possess the intangibles that can’t be measured on the scoresheet. These are the five most clutch goaltenders in Red Wings history.
Roger Crozier played parts of seven seasons with Detroit, and while 12 of his 23 playoff appearances came in one postseason, he led Detroit to the Stanley Cup Final twice, losing both times.
Detroit was aiming for a second consecutive Stanley Cup title when goaltender Normie Smith suffered torn ligaments in his elbow, rendering him out for the rest of the playoffs. In stepped 26-year-old rookie Earl Robertson.
Robertson went 3-2, including back-to-back shutouts in the final two games of the Stanley Cup Final to secure Detroit’s second championship in as many years. His 1.41 goals-against average was stellar, and to step into an intimidating moment and perform at his peak can certainly be deemed as clutch.
Unfortunately, Robertson never played another game for Detroit and was traded to the New York Americans shortly thereafter.
5. Dominik Hasek
Dominik Hasek is a Hall of Fame goaltender who was also the beneficiary of an equally impressive lineup in front of him.
Detroit acquired Hasek in 2002 after a disappointing playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings the year before.
In Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena, Hasek stopped all 19 shots, helping Detroit eliminate Colorado. Hasek held a shutout streak spanning 140:30 before surrendering a goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Hasek sits as low as No. 5 because he had just two postseason runs as the starter in parts of four seasons with Detroit and also played with a multitude of Hall of Fame-caliber players. He would add another Stanley Cup as a backup to Chris Osgood in 2008.
His play in 2002 was stellar and a big reason Detroit earned its third Stanley Cup in six seasons and 10th total.
4. Johnny Mowers
Johnny Mowers took Detroit to three consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances from 1941-1943.
While he had to wash the bitter taste of defeat out of his mouth twice, he proved that the third time was the charm.
Mowers turned the page on his previous playoff collapse to Toronto, backstopping Detroit to a victory over the same Maple Leafs in six games in 1943.
In the Stanley Cup Final, Mowers turned his game up to another level. He surrendered just five goals in Detroit’s four-game sweep of the Bruins, including back-to-back shutouts in Games 3 and 4 on consecutive days—at the Boston Garden.
His play was fortifying, earning the team’s third Stanley Cup in eight seasons. He went 8-2 with a 1.94 goals-against average and became the second Red Wings goaltender to receive the Vezina Trophy.
Mowers also became the first Red Wings goalie with three consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances, eventually accompanied by Harry Lumley (1948-1950).
He came close to a title in two consecutive seasons, including a devastating collapse to a bitter rival. His ability to bounce back from adversity and turn his game up a notch earns him the No. 4 spot on the list.
3. Normie Smith
It is hard to ignore the first goaltender to bring the Stanley Cup to Detroit.
Normie Smith backstopped the Red Wings to back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances in 1936 and 1937, although an injury caused him to miss the final series in ’37.
His 12 playoff appearances resulted in a 9-2 record with three shutouts and a minuscule 1.31 goals-against average. He played all 96 regular-season games from 1935-1937, totaling 49 wins and 12 shutouts.
He went 6-1 during the 1935-36 playoffs with two shutouts. In the semifinals, he gave up just one goal in the three-game sweep of the defending-champion Montreal Maroons, including an unbelievable 1-0 win in Game 1 that lasted an NHL-record 176:30 total minutes.
Smith made 92 saves in the victory and would go down as one of the best individual playoff performances in NHL history.
Smith was incredible during his tenure with Detroit, earning the franchise’s first two Stanley Cup titles and the 1937 Vezina Trophy.
His astounding postseason performances took a competitive club over the top, making Detroit the first American team to win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.
2. Chris Osgood
Chris Osgood is the most polarizing name on this list.
His career numbers appear good enough to earn a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame; however, the teams he skated with were some of the very best.
Osgood was the backup for a Stanley Cup loss in 1995 and a victory in 1997. In 1998, he took over and helped Detroit earn its second title in as many seasons—presumably the more difficult to win.
Osgood took the brunt of the blame for Detroit’s early exit in 2001 to the Los Angeles Kings and was replaced by Dominik Hasek that summer.
He returned after the 2005 NHL lockout as the backup before virtually sharing the starting job in 2007-08. He took the starting job from Hasek after four playoff games, going 14-4 on his way to his third Stanley Cup.
Two of his three postseason shutouts came in the Stanley Cup Final. It was his second Cup as a starter, coming 10 years after his first. He finished with a 1.55 goals-against average and .930 save percentage—the best of his postseason career.
In 2008-09, Detroit lost the Stanley Cup Final, but Osgood again put up great numbers. He finished 15-8 with a 2.01 goals-against average, a .926 save percentage and two shutouts.
He took over the starting job twice, winning Stanley Cups both seasons. He posted his best numbers over the age of 35, with three shutouts coming in the Stanley Cup Final. He is also the franchise leader in playoff wins and shutouts.
He’s come through in various situations at different points in his career. While he has had some poor playoff performances, he played at his best when Detroit needed him most.
1. Terry Sawchuk
It would be irresponsible for Terry Sawchuk to be anywhere but No. 1 on this list.
Sawchuk’s first NHL action was in 1949-50, filling in for an injured Harry Lumley. He impressed coach Jack Adams so much that Lumley was traded shortly after winning the Stanley Cup.
In just his second full season in 1952, he went into the postseason and won all eight games—four by shutout—and posted a remarkable 0.63 goals-against average. Detroit ran through the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens—the only other Cup winners in the previous decade.
Of those four shutouts, two came against the powerful Canadiens offense in the Stanley Cup Final. Montreal had scored 18 goals in its seven-game series win over Boston in the semifinals but was held to just two in four games against Detroit.
Sawchuk was a tremendous regular-season backstop, but he showed his true prowess in the postseason. During his six Stanley Cup runs with Detroit, he won 63 percent of his games with nine shutouts.
His play throughout his career earned him plenty of respect, honor and recognition. He is one of the best goaltenders ever to play the game and arguably the best to don the winged wheel.