Ranking the Greatest Playoff Goaltenders in Modern NHL History

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IMay 9, 2014

Ranking the Greatest Playoff Goaltenders in Modern NHL History

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    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    In the playoffs, no position is more critical and yet more unpredictable than the goaltender. Even the briefest cold streak can be enough to knock a regular-season monster out of contention, while a sufficiently hot stretch can carry even the most mediocre teams to the Stanley Cup. Who have been the very best goalies in the modern era?

    To answer that question, I studied the stats of the 276 goalies who have played at least a single playoff game since the 1967 NHL expansion. Scoring levels had to be adjusted for, and consistent career-long achievements had to be balanced against those with higher peaks over a fewer appearances.

    Ultimately, there were 10 goalies who have achieved the majority of the following:

    • Won a Stanley Cup
    • Won a Conn Smythe as playoff MVP
    • Won at least 60 percent of his games
    • Posted an era-normalized career goals-against average of 2.30 or less
    • Posted an era-normalized career save percentage of .920 or better (applicable only after 1984, when shot data for goalies was first recorded)

    These 10 goalies were then ranked by both the sum total of their career accomplishments and the high-water mark of their best single-season performances.

    There is a lot of room for opinions here, so be sure to weigh in with your own suggestions in the comments. Let's begin!

    All raw statistics are from Hockey Reference; era-adjusted rankings are via writer's own original research.


10. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils

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    RON FREHM/Associated Press

    Career Playoff Achievements

    Martin Brodeur is the all-time leader in postseason shutouts with 24 and is tied for the lead with 17 appearances, all with New Jersey. The Devils won Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003 and had near misses in 2001 and 2012. Brodeur even scored a goal in 1997. Are there really nine goalies who rank higher?

    In terms of overall career achievements, no way. But there are goalies who have hit higher notes over far shorter periods of time.

    Brodeur has never won the Conn Smythe, for instance, and once adjusted for era his career numbers fall outside the top 10. Even his goals-against average, which has been under 2.00 seven times and led the league three times, ranks only 11th once adjusted for the different scoring levels over time. His raw save percentage is tied for 19th, or 28th once adjusted, and he has led the league only once.

    Greatest Postseason Feat

    Brodeur posted seven shutouts in the 2003 playoffs, including three in the final series against Anaheim. In fact, he scored more goals on himself in Game 3 than the Mighty Ducks did in Games 1 and 2.

    It was his third Stanley Cup, and the last time the Devils would make even the Conference Final for almost 10 years. He also won his first Vezina Trophy in the regular season, and would win three of the next four.

    Brodeur posted a career-best .934 save percentage, and his sparkling 1.65 goals-against average was actually his second worst in four seasons. Of all his Conn Smythe near misses, this was the closest.  

9. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

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    David Duprey/Associated Press

    Career Playoff Achievements

    With Thursday night's Game 4 shutout against Montreal, Rask's goals-against average is a league-leading 1.67, which is even lower than it was in last year's Stanley Cup near miss. His career 2.09 ranks seventh among those with at least 30 games (whether adjusted for era or not).

    In terms of save percentage, Rask is one of only two goalies with a career save percentage of .930 or better (minimum 30 games), second only to Tim Thomas. Add in his 27-17 postseason record and Rask is just a Conn Smythe away from satisfying all the criteria mentioned in the opening slide.

    Only 27 years old with just five years of NHL experience and already Rask has a strong body of postseason experience. It will be interesting to see if it continues to hold up over time.

    Greatest Postseason Feat

    Rask had one of the single greatest postseason performances last year, leading the NHL with a .940 save percentage as the Bruins advanced to within a game of winning the Stanley Cup. That means he has already led the league in postseason save percentage as many times as Brodeur.

    Three of Boston's last six wins over Pittsburgh and Chicago were shutouts, helping Rask lead the NHL in that department, too. First he allowed only two goals in Boston's sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Conference Final, and then only a single goal in Games 2 and 3 in the Stanley Cup Final, giving the team a 2-1 advantage over Chicago.

    Can he put up a repeat performance this year? He allowed only six goals in five games in Boston's decisive first-round victory over Detroit. Rask initially ran into difficulty with Montreal, allowing 11 goals in the first three games, but the shutout in Game 4 gives him a better career game-to-shutout ratio than Patrick Roy.

8. Dominik Hasek, Several Teams

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    DAVE DUPREY/Associated Press

    Career Playoff Achievements

    One of the greatest goalies in the history of the sport was certainly no slouch in the postseason.

    Dominik Hasek is tied for eighth in the modern era with 13 postseason appearances, for 10th with 119 games and for fifth with 14 shutouts.

    His 2.02 career goals-against average in the postseason is second to Patrick Lalime, and remains in the top 10 even once adjusted for the low scoring level of his era. He's also one of only 12 goalies with a playoff save percentage of .925 or better (since it was first recorded in 1984).

    Hasek reached the Stanley Cup Final with a mediocre Buffalo Sabres in 1999, but didn't win until 2002 with the Detroit Red Wings. He won again as their backup in 2008 at age 43.

    Greatest Postseason Feat

    Despite recording six shutouts and posting a 1.86 goals-against average as Detroit's starting goalie in its 2002 Cup-winning season, Hasek's most memorable postseason performance was actually with Buffalo in 1999.

    Backstopping a team whose leading postseason scorer was defenseman Jason Woolley, Hasek dragged the seventh-place Buffalo Sabres all the way to within a controversial goal of their first and only Stanley Cup.

    The 34-year-old Czech led the NHL with a .939 postseason save percentage and posted a goals-against average of just 1.77. Hasek kept opponents to two goals or fewer in eight of the last nine games, a trend that could have continued if not for Brett Hull's foot-in-the-crease goal in triple overtime of Game 6.

    That season Hasek became virtually the poster child for just how far an average team can go with unbeatable goaltending.  

7. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Career Playoff Achievements

    Tim Thomas is the prototypical late bloomer. He didn't establish himself in the NHL until age 31 and didn't play his first postseason game until he was 33. Thomas won his first Vezina at age 34, and won his second Vezina along with his first Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe at age 37. He remains the oldest player to ever win that award.

    In all, Thomas' 2.08 goals-against average over 51 games ranks sixth (whether or not adjusted for era), and his .933 save percentage is second only to Anaheim's Jonas Hiller. His 29-21 career record leaves him just one win shy of being the first goalie in this ranking to meet all the requirements listed in the opening slide.

    Thomas is now with the Dallas Stars, and played 15 minutes in Game 5 of their Round 1 matchup with the Anaheim Ducks after starter Kari Lehtonen was chased.

    Greatest Postseason Feat

    Thomas won the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe with the Boston Bruins in 2011 with one of the most dominant goaltending performances in the modern era.

    After winning the Vezina by leading the league in regular-season save percentage (.938) and goals-against average (2.00), Thomas won the Conn Smythe by doing it once again in the postseason. He posted a .940 save percentage, a 1.98 goals-against average and led the way with four shutouts.

    Three of Boston's four series went the full seven games that year, making his elite goaltending particularly critical. Thomas allowed Vancouver to score just seven goals in the seven-game Stanley Cup, with the Canucks requiring overtime the one and only instance it managed to exceed two goals in a game.

    Thomas, the only American player to suit up for Boston that postseason, became the first American to win the Conn Smythe since 1994, the first Bruin since 1972 and the first American goalie to win it ever. Another one, however, would come along the very next year...

6. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Career Playoff Achievements

    2014 is Jonathan Quick's fifth postseason appearance, during which time he has already won a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe and led the league in save percentage, goals-against average and shutouts, twice.

    Quick's career 2.13 goals-against average ranks 10th and his .928 save percentage ranks fifth. He recorded his eighth shutout in Game 5 vs. San Jose, a level he's amazingly reached in just 55 games.

    With two more shutouts he can move into a seventh-place tie with Ken Dryden. Steve Penney is the only modern-era goalie with more shutouts per game than Quick (minimum four shutouts).

    Depending how the Kings' series with the Ducks progresses, Quick is also the first goalie on this list to achieve all the accomplishments mentioned in the opening slide. Facing some very tough opponents, Quick currently has a 2.72 goals-against average and a save percentage of .920.

    Thursday night's 3-2 loss snapped a streak of six straight wins where Quick allowed a combined total of just five goals over the latter five games.

    Greatest Postseason Feat

    Quick won the Conn Smythe in 2012 for good reason. The Kings lost only four games in the entire postseason, thanks to Quick's league-leading .946 save percentage, 1.41 goals-against average and three shutouts.

    Not once in those 20 games did Quick allow more than three goals, and even that many were scored only twice. In the end he allowed just 29 goals in 20 games, including just seven goals in the final round against New Jersey.

    Quick actually posted similar numbers again last year, featuring a .934 save percentage, 1.86 goals-against average and three shutouts, but the Kings were ultimately eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Conference Final.

5. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim Ducks

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    REED SAXON/Associated Press

    Career Playoff Achievements

    Jean-Sebastien Giguere has a 16-season career that goes all the way back to the 1996-97 Hartford Whalers, but has enjoyed at least one full game of postseason action only four times.

    Two of those trips were absolutely amazing, however. Giguere won the Conn Smythe with a league-leading .945 save percentage and 1.62 goals against average in a losing effort with the Mighty Ducks in 2003, and then won it all with the Ducks in 2007.

    Giguere's .660 winning percentage ranks fourth behind only Ken Dryden, Billy Smith and the small post-expansion piece of Gump Worsley's brilliant career. His 2.08 goals-against average ranks seventh, and is one of only 12 goalies with a career postseason save percentage of .925 or better.

    He is currently Semyon Varlamov's backup for the Colorado Avalanche, but hasn't seen any postseason action with them, nor with the three other teams for whom he played before and after his career with Anaheim.

    Greatest Postseason Feat

    Although it was 2007 that Giguere won the Stanley Cup, his finest postseason performance was unquestionably his Conn Smythe-winning performance with the Mighty Ducks in 2003.

    Anaheim lost only two games going into its showdown with the New Jersey Devils, during which time he allowed just 20 goals in 18 games. The highlight was his three straight shutouts to open the Conference Final against the Minnesota Wild.

    The 2003 Mighty Ducks were not a strong offensive team, finishing in a tie for 22nd with 203 regular-season goals and with a 40-year-old leading scorer in the postseason (Adam Oates). It was Giguere's elite play that allowed an otherwise mediocre team to come within a single goal of the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

    It was the fifth (and last) time the Conn Smythe was awarded to a player whose team didn't win the Stanley Cup. 

4. Bernie Parent, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    Career Playoff Achievements

    Over a two-year period in the mid-'70s, Bernie Parent put on the most dominant goaltending display in history. Backstopping the infamous Broad Street Bullies, Parent was essentially unbeatable for two full years until he suffered a neck injury in the 1975 offseason.

    The Flyers became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup in 1973-74, and defended their crown again the next season. It was not their toughness but rather their goaltending that they had to thank. Parent became the first back-to-back winner of the Conn Smythe and until Mario Lemieux in 1992 the only.

    Save percentage wasn't recorded back then, but Parent led the NHL both seasons in goals-against average and shutouts. His combined totals were six shutouts, and a jaw-dropping 1.96 goals-against average. 

    Once adjusted for the higher-scoring nature of the era in which he played, Parent's career goals-against average of 2.22 ranks 14th all time, a notch better than the great Patrick Roy.

    Greatest Postseason Feat

    It is almost impossible to choose between Parent's two brilliant Conn Smythe-winning performances in 1974 and 1975, but let's go with the first.

    Parent allowed just six goals in a first-round sweep of the Atlanta Flames, before allowing 17 in a seven-game series with the Rangers. That's a team that finished second in the NHL with 300 goals, and which had scored 21 in a six-game romp of the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round.

    Next up was Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the mighty Boston Bruins. They led the NHL in the regular season with 349 goals and featured five 30-goal scorers. They were averaging 4.5 goals per game in the postseason, but managed to get just 13 pucks into Philadelphia's net in their six-game series. Parent sealed the series, and the team's first Stanley Cup, with a 1-0 shutout in Game 6.

    Not only did Parent close the door, but he did it against the two best offenses in the league.

3. Billy Smith, New York Islanders

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    Denis Brodeur/Getty Images

    Career Playoff Achievements

    Billy Smith backstopped the New York Islanders to five straight Stanley Cup appearances, the first four of which they won. He earned his Conn Smythe for their last Stanley Cup in 1983.

    Smith enjoyed 13 postseason appearances (in which he played at least one game), during which time he posted an amazing 88-36 win-loss record. Both this and his four Stanley Cups are second to only the goalie coming up next on this list.

    All in all the hot-tempered netminder shared the league lead in postseason shutouts three times, and led the way in goals-against average twice. Once adjusted for the high-scoring era in which he played, Smith's career playoff goals-against average ranks fifth among goalies with at least 40 games.

    Greatest Postseason Feat

    Smith earned the Conn Smythe in what would be New York's final Stanley Cup in 1983.

    In fairness to the Islanders, this was not a team that was normally reliant on their goaltending. One of history's most dominant teams, the Islanders trailed a series and faced elimination only one time each in their four-year run. Only 20 of their 99 games were decided by a single goal, as added up by blogger Phil Myrland.

    It would appear that they could have won with anybody, but New York was 2-2 with backup goalie Roland Melanson while its 32-year-old future Hall of Famer lost only three of his 16 games that postseason.

    His greatest feat that year? "Battling Billy" allowed only six goals in a four-game sweep of the league's next dynasty, the Edmonton Oilers. This was a team that actually averaged over six goals per game in their 11-1 stroll to the Stanley Cup showdown.

2. Ken Dryden, Montreal Canadiens

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    Steve Babineau/Getty Images

    Career Playoff Achievements

    Other than a six-game stint in 1970-71, Ken Dryden's career was just seven seasons. And yet in that short time he won the Vezina Trophy five times, was a first-team All-Star five times and led the league in shutouts four times and in goals-against average four times. That's far more than what all but a handful of goalies could accomplish in careers that were at least twice as long.

    Dryden was just as successful in the playoffs, winning the Stanley Cup six times and the Conn Smythe once. He led the postseason in shutouts twice, and in goals-against average three times.

    His combined 80-32 postseason record is second to none, and his career goals-against average, once adjusted for the higher-scoring nature of his era, is second to only Patrick Lalime.

    Greatest Postseason Feat

    Dryden's most impressive postseason performance was his first.

    Fresh out of college, Dryden won Montreal's starting goaltender job for the 1971 playoffs after six regular-season games in which he allowed just nine goals.

    The Canadiens faced the monster Boston Bruins in the first round, who topped the NHL with 121 points and 399 goals scored. It was a lineup that featured Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, three more 30-goal scorers and five more with 20 goals. It could very well have been the most offensively capable team to set foot on a sheet of ice at that point in history.

    What comes next is a true piece of hockey lore, as Dryden helped Montreal prevail in perhaps the greatest playoff series of all time. While he wouldn't be the last Canadiens rookie goalie to take the hockey world by storm, he was perhaps the greatest.

1. Patrick Roy, Montreal/Colorado

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    Paul Hurschmann/Associated Press

    Career Playoff Achievements

    Whether you use statistics or not, Patrick Roy is unquestionably the bar against which all other goalies are measured.

    Roy is tied for the modern era lead with 17 postseason appearances and is all alone out front with 151 wins, 247 games played and three Conn Smythe trophies.

    His 23 career shutouts puts him one behind Martin Brodeur for the all-time lead, and his four Stanley Cups two back of Dryden. Roy's .616 winning percentage ranks fifth, and once adjusted for era his goals-against average ranks 13th (minimum 30 games).

    Save percentage was first officially recorded shortly before Roy's debut and, once adjusted for era, Roy ranks third all time behind only Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. Roy has led or tied for the postseason lead in shutouts four times, goals-against average three times and save percentage once.

    Greatest Postseason Feat

    Choosing Roy's greatest postseason performance is quite the task. Do you choose his 20-year-old rookie performance in 1986, his almost single-handed Stanley Cup run in 1993, or perhaps the most dominant goaltending performance in history with Colorado in 2001?

    Conceding that Dryden is probably the king of the "Montreal rookie run," and that the 2001 Avalanche also had Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Ray Bourque and Rob Blake on whom to rely, Roy's 1993 Conn Smythe-winning performance stands out most for me.

    The Habs lost only four games that year, winning 11 straight from early in the first round until late in the third. They also won 10 straight overtime games, including in Games 2, 3 and 4 against Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in the Final. Roy then helped secure the Stanley Cup with a 4-1 victory in Game 5.

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.


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