Ranking the Top Goaltending Performances of the NHL Playoffs so Far
As the 2014 NHL playoffs approach the halfway point, one truth remains consistent. Stable, top-notch goaltending is an important key to postseason success. It's also fun to watch: We like spectacular goals, but we love a great save.
Not every remarkable netminding display is enough to push a team forward in its Stanley Cup pursuit. Goalies need support from the teammates in front of them, and they need to be able to deliver again and again.
Looking at specific games, here are 10 of the best goaltending performances we've seen in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The ranking has been determined by the "wow" factor of the goalie's performance and is influenced by where the game took the team in its postseason so far. The list is limited to a maximum of one goalie per team (sorry, Darcy Kuemper) and adds a little extra weight to the goaltenders who are still alive in their Cup pursuit.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com, current through games Wednesday, May 14.
10. Jimmy Howard: Detroit Red Wings
The Date: April 18
The Situation: Game 1, Round 1 vs. the Boston Bruins.
Facing the winners of the 2014 Presidents' Trophy, the Detroit Red Wings stymied the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of their first-round matchup. Goaltender Jimmy Howard stopped all 25 shots he faced, allowing Detroit to build a 1-0 series lead on the strength of the game's only goal, which was scored by Pavel Datsyuk.
What it Meant: In the end, not that much. The Bruins were able to systematically dismantle the Wings in subsequent meetings, ultimately winning the series in five games.
9. Kari Lehtonen: Dallas Stars
The Date: April 21
The Situation: Game 3, Round 1 vs. the Anaheim Ducks, with the Ducks leading the series 2-0.
After losing two one-goal games to the Ducks in Anaheim, the Dallas Stars gave their home fans a treat in their first playoff game in six years. Kari Lehtonen stopped all 37 shots he faced, shutting out the Ducks and giving the Stars a 3-0 win to narrow the series to 2-1.
What it Meant: A big dose of goodwill for a Stars organization that's working hard to ignite a fanbase. Dallas also won Game 4, tying the series, and was within a breath of forcing Game 7 before a late collapse in Game 6 sent the team to the golf course for the summer.
Thanks to both the Stars' scorers and Lehtonen's impressive goaltending, Game 3 will be seen as the crown jewel of a successful playoff run for a rebuilding franchise.
8. Steve Mason: Philadelphia Flyers
The Date: April 25
The Situation: Game 4, Round 1 vs. the New York Rangers, with the Rangers leading the series 2-1.
Steve Mason was injured in the Philadelphia Flyers' second-to-last game of the regular season, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, leaving backup Ray Emery to start the playoffs against the New York Rangers.
After Emery faltered in Game 3, Mason stepped in to finish the game. Then, with the Rangers holding a 2-1 series lead, he made 37 saves in Game 4 to give the Flyers a 2-1 win and help them tie the series at two games apiece.
What it Meant: Ultimately, Mason was able to backstop the Flyers to one additional win. Philadelphia fell to the Rangers in seven games.
7. Tuukka Rask: Boston Bruins
The Date: April 20
The Situation: Game 2, Round 1 vs. the Detroit Red Wings, with the Bruins leading the series 1-0.
After the Boston Bruins found themselves suddenly behind in their first-round playoff series against Detroit, Tuukka Rask was named first star in a 4-1 win. He stopped 34 shots and sent the message that Detroit wouldn't get any early goals in this series.
What it Meant: As the Red Wings wilted, the Bruins didn't let up. They won the series convincingly in five games before falling in seven to the Montreal Canadiens in Round 2.
6. Ilya Bryzgalov: Minnesota Wild
The Date: April 30
The Situation: Game 7, Round 1 vs. the Colorado Avalanche, with the series tied 3-3.
Ilya Bryzgalov started the playoffs for the Minnesota Wild, but he was replaced by Darcy Kuemper after giving up five goals in Game 1 and three in the first half of Game 2.
Kuemper played great—and deserves his own acknowledgement for shutting out the Colorado Avalanche in Game 3—but he was injured with 8:13 left in the third period in do-or-die Game 7.
Bryzgalov stepped in with the series on the line and his team trailing 4-3. He need to make just one save, but that was enough to give the Wild time to score the tying goal with 2:27 remaining in the third period, then allow Nino Niederreiter to send Minnesota to the second round at 5:02 of overtime.
What it Meant: The upset win over Colorado gave the Wild just their second trip past the first round in their franchise history.
Also, after starting the season out of the NHL, Bryzgalov reasserted himself as an NHL goaltender. He played every second of Minnesota's tough second-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, which Minnesota ultimately lost in six games.
5. Jonathan Quick: Los Angeles Kings
The Date: April 26
The Situation: Game 5, Round 1 vs. the San Jose Sharks, with the Sharks leading the series 3-1.
The San Jose Sharks started the playoffs like gangbusters, scoring 17 goals in their first three games and pushing 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick to the bottom of the postseason goaltending statistics.
Rather than succumb to elimination, the Los Angeles Kings fought back with a 6-3 victory in Game 4, then the old Jonathan Quick reappeared in a 3-0 victory in Game 5.
What it Means: Backed once again by a dominant Quick, the Kings bounced back to win the series by a 4-3 margin. Still as streaky as they were during the regular season, Los Angeles won six in a row before dropping three games to the Anaheim Ducks in the second round, pushing itself to the brink of elimination once again before rebounding to force Game 7.
4. Corey Crawford: Chicago Blackhawks
The Date: May 13
The Situation: Game 6, Round 2 vs. the Minnesota Wild, with the Blackhawks leading the series 3-2.
In 2013, Minnesota was barely a pesky mosquito during the Chicago Blackhawks' playoff run. The 'Hawks easily dispatched the Wild in five games in the first round before storming through the Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins to win their second Stanley Cup in four years.
In 2014, the Wild put up much more of a fight. After giving up one goal in Game 6, Crawford needed to shut the door for the last 47:21 to successfully advance the Blackhawks to another Western Conference final.
What it Means: Remains to be seen. While Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are being acknowledged once again as game-breakers and the Blackhawks' role players are making a difference, Crawford takes his share of criticism despite his Stanley Cup win in 2013.
Through two rounds, Crawford leads all goaltenders with a 1.97 goals-against and is tied with Henrik Lundqvist with a .931 save percentage. Chicago may play a team game, but Crawford is showing that he can make the big save when it's needed.
3. John Gibson: Anaheim Ducks
The Date: May 10
The Situation: Game 4, Round 2 vs. the Los Angeles Kings, with the Kings leading the series 2-1.
After Frederik Andersen was injured midway through the third period of Game 3, John Gibson was recalled from the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL as an injury replacement—and given the starting assignment.
Gibson posted a 3-0 shutout in his first ever NHL playoff game, then backstopped the Ducks to a 4-3 win in Game 5 before losing his first postseason game in his third playoff start—dropping a 2-1 decision to the Los Angeles Kings.
What it Means: At just 20 years old, Gibson exudes remarkable grace under pressure and helped to galvanize his team. It remains to be seen if he can outduel Jonathan Quick in Game 7 to advance the Ducks to the Western Conference Final.
Gibson has a bright future ahead of him in the NHL—the question now is whether he can keep up his solid early momentum to deliver a star-making performance this spring.
2. Henrik Lundqvist: New York Rangers
The Date: May 13
The Situation: Game 7, Round 2 vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the series tied 3-3.
As the New York Rangers wilted in their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist kept the team alive. Once the Rangers rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to force a seventh game, it was Lundqvist who stopped 35 shots and was named the game's first star in New York's 2-1 series-clinching win over Pittsburgh.
What it Means: The win means Lundqvist has won the last five Game 7 situations he has faced—an impressive record. He's also tied for the lead in save percentage so far in these playoffs, at .931 and second in goals-against with an average of 1.99 goals per game.
The Rangers are back in the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in three years. Whether they go farther will depend, in large part, on King Henrik.
1. Carey Price: Montreal Canadiens
The Date: May 12
The Situation: Game 6, Round 2 vs. the Boston Bruins, with the Bruins leading the series 3-2.
With the Boston Bruins one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Final after a convincing 4-2 win in Game 5, the Montreal Canadiens returned to the Bell Centre and laid down a rousing 4-0 shutout win. Carey Price stopped all 26 shots he faced and set the stage for Montreal's Game 7 win over the Bruins in Boston.
What it Means: The Habs are carrying a ton of momentum after upsetting the 2014 Presidents' Trophy winners in such nervy style. So far in the playoffs, Price hasn't shown any of the hiccups that have set him back over the past few years. If he can continue to play with the same calm near-perfection that he displayed in Sochi, the Canadiens could have a real chance at winning their first Stanley Cup in 21 seasons.