John Gibson is being treated like some sort of anomaly, a unicorn of sorts that has arrived on the scene in Anaheim to offer the Ducks a chance at a magical run to a Stanley Cup.
A second-round pick in 2011 who had played three more NHL games in his career than a box of Junior Mints before the playoffs began, Gibson has been a brick wall in this conference semifinal series with the Los Angeles Kings that will conclude with Game 7 in Anaheim on Friday. In three starts since replacing the injured Frederik Andersen and leapfrogging Jonas Hiller on the depth chart, Gibson is 2-1 with a 1.69/.946 split.
That's not bad for a guy who was playing in the AHL a few weeks ago.
Gibson has been touted as the next great American goaltender since he was drafted, and the 20-year-old's invite to Team USA Olympic orientation camp last summer is a strong indication of what some of the sport's top minds think of him. His time wasn't supposed to be now, but here he is, one win away from an improbable trip to the Western Conference Final.
Well, in reality, this performance by Gibson isn't improbable at all; it's more an extreme case of what has been happening with goaltenders in the NHL since 2005-06.
“Young kids don’t know any better," Ducks winger Corey Perry told Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski after Gibson's Game 4 shutout of the Kings in his postseason debut. "They come in and they play the way they’re told to play.”
|Postseason experience, starting goaltenders in postseason|
Practical thinking says for a team to win a Stanley Cup, an experienced, and of course talented, goaltender is required. It usually takes a few years for a young team to learn how to win in the playoffs, grow from defeat, learn from mistakes. Very rarely does a team arrive on the scene out of nowhere and win a championship without absorbing a few painful lessons in the preceding seasons.
That somehow hasn't applied to most goaltenders in recent seasons.
Cam Ward backstopped the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup as a rookie in 2006 after playing just 28 regular-season games. He replaced veteran Martin Gerber in the first round and went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Ray Emery had 45 games of regular-season experience before the 2006-07 season, the year he helped lead the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Final, although he did get a two-round taste of the postseason in 2006. Antti Niemi split time during the 2009-10 regular season with Cristobal Huet before taking the reins for the Chicago Blackhawks' championship run, which ended with a Game 6 win against Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton, who was in his first postseason.
In 2012, Jonathan Quick was hardly a rookie, but he went up against future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur in the finals and got the best of him. Quick had played in 12 postseason games before 2012; Brodeur had played in 181.
Each of those cases is a snowflake, and nothing exactly matches what Gibson is trying to do with the Ducks, but a wealth of experience is hardly a mandatory requirement for a goaltender in search of a Stanley Cup these days.
"He showed [the ability to steal games] in Norfolk this year when teams outshot us like 50-10 and we would still win 1-0," Ducks center Rickard Rakell said to NHL.com's Corey Masisak of the time he spent with Gibson in the AHL. "He's been unbelievable the whole year. I don't think anybody is surprised with what he's shown so far."
Gibson planted the seeds of confidence in Bruce Boudreau during his short stint with the Ducks in the regular season. After an 18-save shutout in his NHL debut, Boudreau went back to Gibson two nights later in a game against the San Jose Sharks with the Pacific Division on the line. Gibson stopped 36 of 38 shots in the Ducks' division-clinching 5-2 victory that served as an unintentional audition for postseason playing time.
"Quite frankly, with the San Jose game to me, which was for first place in the division and really important, he came in as cool as a cucumber," Boudreau said to Masisak. "We thought at that point that we could start him (in Game 1 of the first round). I didn't really want to jump the gun because these two guys (Andersen and Hiller) had been with us the whole year and done a great job. The confidence I have in this young man is great. I knew he was going to do a good job."
Of course, all this talk will become moot if the Ducks lose Game 7 to the Kings, no matter how well Gibson plays. But the one thing that's certain for Anaheim is that the future is bright as long Gibson is between the pipes.
"It's obviously exciting, but we haven't won anything yet," Gibson said to Masisak. "I think we'll be excited if we win. That's the time to celebrate."
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.
All statistics via NHL.com.