2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Goaltending Stellar in Early Quarterfinals Matches

James ConleyContributor IIIApril 14, 2011

Price's excellence allowed Montreal's rope-a-dope offense to wait for its chances, grinding out a 2-0 win over the Boston Bruins.
Price's excellence allowed Montreal's rope-a-dope offense to wait for its chances, grinding out a 2-0 win over the Boston Bruins.Elsa/Getty Images

2011 is the year of the playoff goaltender.

A handful of games is enough to establish a trend, isn't it?

Not even a little bit. However, goaltenders have certainly had the better of scorers through the first two days of the postseason.

As of this writing, Ryan Miller and Carey Price had polished off shutouts in the first two of three Thursday games. Pending the result of the San Jose - Los Angeles match, opening games in the first round could feature as many as five shutouts in eight contests.

A focus on defense isn't a postseason revelation. Teams often spend opening games feeling each other out, getting a sense of the pace and working to avoid mistakes rather than to create scoring chances.

Despite the precedents, it seems uncommon that at least half the opening contests in this postseason will end in shutouts.

Marc-Andre Fleury earned the first blanking of the postseason, stopping 32 shots as the Penguins slowly eroded Tampa's defense and eventually earned their offense a 3-0 win. Roberto Luongo followed in the late game with a 2-0 shutout of the defending-champ Blackhawks, also turning away 32 shots.

Fleury and Luongo came into their games with high expectations created by excellent regular seasons and poor performances in last year's playoffs. The Canucks and Penguins, who finished first and second in regular season victories, must be happy with their early performances.

Ryan Miller and Carey Price earned theirs Thursday night with wins over the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins, respectively. Price backstopped the underdog Montreal Canadiens to a 2-0 victory with 31 saves. Miller's 35 were good enough to take home-ice advantage from the second-seeded Flyers.

Of the four blankings, the losing clubs - Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and Tampa Bay - ranked 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th in goals scored during the regular season.

Home teams won two of the four matches, both Wednesday.

Going beyond perfect save percentages, only Ilya Bryzgalov and Dan Ellis have allowed more than three goals in a game (Pittsburgh's third came on an empty net).

Michal Neuvirth and Pekka Rinne allowed only one goal apiece in their victories. Dwayne Roloson, Henrik Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky - all first-game losers - allowed only two goals apiece in their appearances. Jimmy Howard is the only winning goaltender so far to have allowed two goals in a game.

The winning goalies of the first seven games have a combined save percentage of .979. Worst among them is Howard's .929 percentage, hardly a number to sneeze at.

The sample size is dainty, but its never too early to pick apart numbers and try to identify trends. Goals scored were on the decline this season, and the crop of goaltenders in this postseason is memorably good.

There are six goaltenders with legitimate claims at the Vezina Trophy participating in the first round. Some, like Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo, have stockpiled impressive numbers behind excellent teams, while others like Fleury, Lundqvist and Price, have been called on to carry their clubs into the dance.

Its unreasonable to suggest that the scoring will stay this low. However, this all-world group of goaltenders is capable of providing the best stories of the postseason if they can maintain the standards they've set so far.