NHL

Power Ranking the Goalies in the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

Steve MacfarlaneFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2014

Power Ranking the Goalies in the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    There was a time when every playoff series prediction I made was based purely on who was playing between the pipes.

    There's no more critical position than goal when it comes to the postseason. A hot goaltender can win or lose a series, stealing games with unreal performances or costing his team critical momentum with a single bad goal. (You just pictured Marc-Andre Fleury, didn't you...)

    With that in mind, it's time to rank the goalies for this year's playoff tournament. Experience, agility, positioning, mental toughness, maturity and even the relationship a netminder may have with his coach could all come into play when it comes to the performance.

    Click ahead to see one man's thoughts on the best and worst heading into the NHL's 2014 second season.

     

    All statistics are from NHL.com and Extra Skater unless otherwise noted.

Ray Emery/Steve Mason (Philadelphia Flyers)

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    Matt Slocum

    By the numbers

    Ray Emery: 28 GP, 9-12-2 record, 2.96 goals-against average, .903 save percentage, two shutouts.

    Steve Mason: 61 GP, 33-18-7 record, 2.50 GAA, .917 save percentage, four shutouts.

     

    The skinny

    Mason has had an incredible year. With a .936 save percentage in October and November, he kept his team in games early in the season they had no business winning, allowing them an opportunity to get their collective game together to make this charge into the playoffs. After showing flashes of his rookie self last season in his first reclamation efforts with the Philadelphia Flyers, Mason was given the opportunity to start this year. He has made the most of that second chance and has posted the best save percentage (.917) of his career.

    Then he went and got hurt, and there's no word on when he might be available to return. Tough timing. Despite the fact Mason has never won a playoff game—he's 0-4 after getting swept as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the franchise's first postseason appearance back in 2009—the ranking would be higher if he was healthy.

    Emery has had playoff success with the Ottawa Senators, getting them to the Cup Final in 2007, but that was ages ago, and his season has been forgettable at best after a strong showing as the Blackhawks backup a year ago.



    The bottom line

    Until Mason comes back, and proves he can perform admirably under the pressure of the playoffs, the Flyers' goaltending situation remains messy and uncertain.

Ilya Bryzgalov (Minnesota Wild)

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    32 GP, 12-9-8 record, 2.68 GAA, .909 save percentage, four shutouts.



    The skinny

    Ilya Bryzgalov was incredible down the stretch for the Wild and could prove to be the stable and consistent force the team needs to win its first playoff series since 2003. But there are reasons that few outside the State of Hockey are convinced that the man who won five of his last seven starts can keep it up in the playoffs.

    For one, Bryzgalov has not been very good in the postseason since his surprising emergence as an Anaheim Ducks backup in 2006 eared him a chance to split time with J.S. Giguere. Bryzgalov put up an amazing .944 save percentage and 1.46 goals-against average in 11 appearances that year. The next season, he was part of the Stanley Cup victory—albeit in more of a limited role—with a 2.25 GAA and .922 save percentage in five playoff games.

    Things have gone south since. In three playoff performances since, he's put together save percentages of .906 and .879 with the Phoenix Coyotes, and a .887 with the Philadelphia Flyers. Ouch. That sealed his banishment from the NHL until the Edmonton Oilers granted him reprieve a couple of months into this season, and then the Wild got desperate for an insurance policy because of health issues to their top netminders.

     

    The bottom line

    Which Bryzgalov is going to show up? The one who looked awful in the regular-season finale, or the one who put together back-to-back shutouts a few days before that? That uncertainty and his recent track record in pressure situations are what have him ranked so low.

Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh Penguins)

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    Gene J. Puskar

    By the numbers

    64 GP, 39-18-5 record, 2.37 goals-against average, .915 save percentage.

     

    The skinny

    Marc-Andre Fleury has looked fairly solid this season, but the regular season has never been his problem. It's the playoffs that have led to his reputation as a less-than-dependable option as a starter when the pressure is on.

    The past two postseasons have been a complete disaster for Fleury. He was awful against the Philadelphia Flyers in a first-round exit in 2012, putting up a 4.63 GAA and .834 save percentage with 26 goals allowed in six games. That led to a shorter leash last year, and Fleury responded with a horrible stretch (14 goals allowed in a three-game window) in the first round against the New York Islanders that led to him being benched in favor of veteran backup Tomas Vokoun the rest of the way.

    The team asked him to see a sports psychologist and hired a new goaltending coach to work with him on his aggressive nature. The only way to know if those efforts have truly helped, though, is to see what happens in the coming days. His first outing was an up-and-down comeback win for the Pens.

     

    The bottom line

    Although he's been sidelined for much of the season to deal with a blood clot, the Penguins might want to keep Vokoun on standby just in case all the team's efforts to get Fleury in the right mindset doesn't pay off early.

Anders Lindback/Ben Bishop (Tampa Bay Lightning)

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    LM Otero

    By the numbers

    Anders Lindback: 23 GP, 8-12-2 record, 2.90 goals-against average, .891 save percentage, one shutout.

    Ben Bishop: 63 GP, 37-14-7 record, 2.23 GAA, .924 save percentage, five shutouts.

     

    The skinny

    Bishop is in Vezina contention and was the Lightning's MVP this season. But there's one more forum to prove he's a legitimate and maybe elite netminder in the NHL, and that's the playoffs. When that might happen for the first-year starting goalie with plenty to prove is anyone's guess right now. An ailing elbow kept him out of Game 1 against the Montreal Canadiens, and the Habs scored five times on Lindback to grab a 1-0 series lead with the 5-4 overtime victory.

    Lindback was peppered with 44 shots, so you can't blame him entirely for the loss. However, he is no Bishop, and that's obvious in their regular-season numbers.

    Bishop is back on the ice, but there's no set time for his return just yet, according to Bolts beat writer Missy Zielinski:

    INJURY UPDATE: Ben Bishop is on the ice with medical staff, not in full pads, but doing drills. #TBLightning

    — Missy Zielinski (@Missy_Zielinski) April 16, 2014

     

    The bottom line

    The Bolts are better with Bishop. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do in the playoffs.

Kari Lehtonen (Dallas Stars)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    By the numbers

    65 GP, 33-20-10 record, 2.41 goals-against average, .919 save percentage, five shutouts.

     

    The skinny

    Kari Lehtonen played more games and minutes than any other workhorse goaltender this season. He made the second-most saves. His statistics were solid if unspectacular, and his five-on-five save percentage of .928 was actually ninth best among those who played at least half the games—as good as Jonathan Quick and better than the likes of Jimmy Howard, Corey Crawford, Steve Mason, Ryan Miller, Marc-Andre Fleury and Antti Niemi.

    So why isn't he higher on this list? The 30-year-old Finn has exactly two playoff games on his resume, both with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2007. And they did not go well for him.

    For nearly a decade, he's been a quiet but extremely reliable starter. Looking to take that reputation into the postseason, he's off to a bit of a rough start following a 4-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night.



    The bottom line

    Athletic and positionally sound, Lehtonen is capable of stealing games, but he sure didn't look like it against Anaheim. This is his opportunity to show he's a better goalie than most know.

Frederik Andersen/Jonas Hiller (Anaheim Ducks)

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    Danny Moloshok

    By the numbers

    Frederik Andersen: 28 GP, 20-5-0 record, 2.29 goals-against average, .923 save percentage.

    Jonas Hiller: 50 GP, 29-13-7 record, 2.48 GAA, .911 save percentage, five shutouts.

     

    The skinny

    Hiller played so poorly down the stretch that Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau decided he'd start rookie Frederik Andersen over the veteran—at least to begin the series against the Dallas Stars. It helps that Andersen looked so good down the stretch for the Ducks, winning his last four starts and posting a .924 save percentage as the team worked toward securing the Pacific Division title.

    Hiller, though, has more big-game experience both with the Ducks in the playoffs in 2009 and 2013 and at the Sochi Winter Olympics a couple of months ago with Team Switzerland.

    Making things more complicated is the presence of another rookie in John Gibson, who won all three of his starts late in the season and was named the league's second star of the final week with a shutout in his first NHL game, a 1.33 goals-against average and .954 save percentage.

     

    The bottom line

    What the pre-playoff move to the rookie means is Boudreau could mess with his goaltenders' confidence levels. One bad game, one bad period, means whoever is in there could get the hook. As good as Andersen has been in the regular season, he's unproven in the playoffs and under pressure. But by going to him to start, Boudreau might have made it impossible for Hiller to come in and perform well if needed. Luckily, the first game went swimmingly for Andersen.

Antti Niemi (San Jose Sharks)

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez

    By the numbers

    64 GP, 39-17-7 record, 2.39 goals-against average, .913 save percentage, four shutouts.

     

    The skinny

    Like Corey Crawford, Antti Niemi won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks but has never been considered elite—more a product of a good team in front of him than a star himself. That may not be fair, and the 30-year-old has improved his postseason save percentage every spring with the Sharks, but his own coach hasn't helped him by leaving it as a possibility that backup Alex Stalock could play instead, per Josh Dubow of the Associated Press, via The Globe and Mail.

    Stalock's numbers (a .932 save percentage and 1.87 GAA in 24 games) are more impressive, but it's a much smaller sample size, and there's no telling how the 26-year-old would handle the playoffs, whereas Niemi has a Stanley Cup ring.



    The bottom line

    Niemi is a middle-of-the-pack playoff goaltender, but he won't cost you games. He might not win you any, either, and the San Jose Sharks need some strong play in net to get out of their first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Kings.

Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings)

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    51 GP, 21-19-11 record, 2.66 goals-against average, .910 save percentage, two shutouts.

     

    The skinny

    Jimmy Howard has had a down season, but is it a product of the massive and key injuries in front of him, or has he been playing subpar hockey for the Detroit Red Wings? Maybe it's been a bit of both. His save percentage in all situations was good for 23rd out of 25 goalies who played at least 41 games. That number climbed, though, in five-on-five situations. Howard's save percentage at even strength was .928, good for 15th best.

    He has traditionally raised his level of play in the postseason, and the Red Wings will need that to happen to have any hope of upsetting the Boston Bruins in the first round. Last season was his best spring to date, as he helped the Wings get to the playoffs and upset the Anaheim Ducks in seven games in the opening round before falling in seven to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.



    The bottom line

    The 30-year-old is probably a little underrated as a goaltender overall but can't be counted on for consistent play and sits well back of the top tier of playoff goalties this year.

Ryan Miller (St. Louis Blues)

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    Mark Buckner/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    59 GP, 25-30-4 record, 2.64 goals-against average, .918 save percentage, one shutout.

     

    The skinny

    Ryan Miller was playing pretty well for a really bad team in Buffalo, putting up a .923 save percentage while toiling for the league's worst possession team. He started off strong in St. Louis, too, after being traded there at the deadline. But things fell apart following his seven wins in his first eight games. After that stretch, he went 3-8 over the final weeks and saw his save percentage drop to .903 with the Blues overall.

    That's not what they traded for.

    The 33-year-old does have some playoff success on his resume, however, and the Blues will need it now with so many forwards injured.



    The bottom line

    Based on his skill and history, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that he can turn things around and backstop this team to at least a hard-fought series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets)

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    58 GP, 32-30-5 record, 2.38 goals-against average, .923 save percentage.

     

    The skinny

    Sergei Bobrovsky once again had a Vezina Trophy-worthy season—at least in the second half. He had a rocky start, winning just nine times in the first two months before injury knocked him out of action until the new year. He came back a new man, winning 23 of 35 from January to April, with three of those dozen losses coming in overtime or a shootout.

    He's clearly capable of great things but will have to be a lot better than he was in his abysmal seven postseason games with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011 and 2012 and the opener on Wednesday—a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that saw a few softies get past him, including the winning goal from Brandon Sutter.

    Head coach Todd Richards said as much to The Associated Press Wednesday:

    ''I've seen Bob make that save a thousand times,'' Richards said, via Yahoo! Sports. ''It just got by him.''

     

    The bottom line

    Bobrovsky has to bounce back from his rough start and translate his regular-season success into strong playoff performances to be considered elite.

Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks)

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    Nam Y. Huh

    By the numbers

    59 GP, 32-16-10 record, 2.26 goals-against average, .917 save percentage.

     

    The skinny

    Corey Crawford finally earned a little respect as a netminder last spring, putting together a Conn Smythe Trophy-worthy performance to help the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. Patrick Kane actually claimed the Conn Smythe, but Crawford was a close second, earning consideration for his impressive .932 save percentage and playoff-best 1.84 GAA.

    Still, some doubt Crawford is good enough to do it again.

    There's no reason not to believe it given his regular-season numbers. His even-strength save percentage was top-12, at .927. He won 32 games—the third straight time he's hit the 30-win mark in a full season.

    If you don't have confidence in him, his teammates do.



    The bottom line

    Crawford could be back in the Stanley Cup Final series. He's a much stronger goalie than his reputation would suggest.

Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings)

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    49 GP, 27-17-4 record, 2.07 goals-against average, .915 save percentage, six shutouts.

     

    The skinny

    Jonathan Quick's reputation is still riding the wave of that amazing 2012 Conn Smythe playoff performance. He led the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup that season with a .946 save percentage and 1.41 GAA.

    He's extremely fast and super aggressive, which makes him fun to watch. But he hasn't been one of the top five Vezina-worthy goaltenders this season or ever, really—aside from that Cup run. He benefits in part from the rigid defensive nature of the team in front of him, which complements his confidence and style perfectly, and the spectacular nature of some of his saves, which gets people talking about him as an elite goalie.

    At even strength, Quick is a top-10 goalie in save percentage, with a .928 mark putting him just outside the top five or six.



    The bottom line

    His play will be key for the Kings to make it past the San Jose Sharks in the first round and the Anaheim Ducks in the second. It's a tall task, but if he raises his level of play in the postseason the way he did two years ago, the Kings will go deep.

Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens)

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    STEVE NESIUS

    By the numbers

    59 GP, 34-20-5 record, 2.32 goals-against average, .927 save percentage.

     

    The skinny

    Carey Price is having a career year in so many ways. On top of winning a gold medal for Team Canada at the Sochi Games, he's the biggest reason the Montreal Canadiens are in the playoffs. His numbers are elite—eighth in goals-against average among those who have played at least 40 games and third in save percentage in all situations and in five-on-five play behind fellow Vezina potentials Tuukka Rask and Semyon Varlamov.

    His playoff past is quickly catching up with him, however. His debut this spring was atrocious until the overtime period, as the Habs escaped with a 5-4 victory.

    Price hasn't won a playoff round since his rookie season in 2008, and that will quickly be brought up if he doesn't settle down and play more like he did during the regular season in the next contest.

     

    The bottom line

    Price is too good and too mentally strong to be affected by one poor performance. He'll rebound and help the Habs settle into their first-round task.

Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers)

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    63 GP, 33-24-5 record, 2.36 goals-against average, .920 save percentage, five shutouts.

     

    The skinny

    Henrik Lundqvist, for all his regular-season heroics and international achievements, has never hoisted a Stanley Cup. It's not for a lack of trying, but the stars haven't aligned despite him being one of the best ever to play in net.

    Lundqvist has put together seasons with at least a .920 save percentage for five straight years and six of his nine in the NHL. In the last two playoffs, he's been over .930. At some point, the series stealer's hard work might actually pay off with an appearance in the penultimate matchup, right?

    He hasn't had the most consistent season but recovered nicely from a rough start of two wins in his first seven and 12 in his first 29 through December to claim 21 of the last 33. With a new extension, Lundqvist has time to win that coveted Cup, but he would prefer to earn it sooner than later.



    The bottom line

    The Rangers are grouped in a hotly contested but wide open side of the bracket and have arguably the best goalie on that side in order to make a deep run.

Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche)

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    Mark Zaleski

    By the numbers

    63 GP, 41-14-6 record, 2.41 goals-against average, .927 save percentage, two shutouts.

     

    The skinny

    Semyon Varlamov is as surprising this season as the success of the Colorado Avalanche in the standings. And the two are intrinsically tied together. No player in the league was more important to his team than Varlamov, who faced more shots and made more saves than any other NHL goaltender while setting the franchise record for wins to beat out his legendary head coach, Patrick Roy.

    Roy has good reason to tout Varlamov's name as a Hart Trophy candidate.



    The bottom line

    His third season as the starter for the Avalanche has been enlightening and is the product of hard work, according to Adrian Dater of The Denver Post. The 25-year-old appears capable of great things. The only question is whether the sheer amount of shots he faces will eventually catch up to him.

Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins)

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    Charles Krupa

    By the numbers

    58 GP, 36-15-6 record, 2.04 goals-against average, .930 save percentage, seven shutouts.

     

    The skinny

    Not only is his name as fun to pronounce as that girl Tootie from The Facts of Life, but Tuukka Rask is the most impressive goaltender on the planet right now. He finished top-five in every major category, leading the way in shutouts and save percentage among those who played at least 30 games.

    He's the most likely choice for the Vezina Trophy, and at 27 years of age, he's only getting better. Despite using the February "break" to help the Finns to a bronze medal at the Sochi Games, he tells the Boston Herald's Steve Conroy he feels rested and confident thanks to splitting some time in goal down the stretch.

    Although this is his first full 82-game season as a starter, his playoff experience from a year ago—a 1.88 GAA and .940 save percentage through 22 games—is proof he's a difference-maker.



    The bottom line

    It helps that Rask's team is so good defensively in front of him, but putting him on any other team would instantly make that squad better. If I could pick one goalie to back my team this spring, it's him.

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