Playoff Goaltending May Be a Problem for Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks

Matthew Hogan@MattNHLHoganAnalyst IMarch 26, 2010

UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 02:  Cristobal Huet #39 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on as the New York Islanders celebrate a second period goal on March 2, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It’s been said that a great goalie can win his team the Stanley Cup. Well there are a lot of playoff teams questioning their goaltender situations with the postseason just a couple of weeks away.

A lot of the problems can be found in the Eastern Conference. Let’s start with Washington Capitals.

Now, the Caps have more of a good problem than anything else—a dilemma, if you will. At the beginning of the season it looked like Semyon Varlamov was going to be the starting goalie all season. But veteran goalie Jose Theodore stepped up when Varlamov went down with groin and knee problems.

Theodore had to be replaced in the playoffs last season after a couple of lackluster starts. However, in his last 19 games this season, Theodore is 17-0-2. The only concern is that he hasn’t played more than three games in a row since the middle of January.

My guess is that the Caps will go with the hot goaltender. It might not even matter with the offense Washington has.

Next on the list: Boston.

The Boston Bruins have been a goaltending roller coaster all season long. First Tim Thomas was the starter, then Tuukka Rask was the starter, then Thomas, and then Rask.

It looks like, for the moment, Rask will start in the playoffs. But the dilemma arises from the fact that Thomas won the Vezina Trophy last season.

Thomas’ age has been more noticeable this season than in the past. The amazing saves he made on bad rebounds last season, he just isn’t quick enough to make this year.

But Rask is young and has no playoff experience which could spell trouble for the Bruins who are currently matched up with the offensive-minded Capitals in the first round—not good.

While the Caps and Bruins have problems that appear to be solvable, the Philadelphia Flyers do not.

Ray Emery’s very serious hip problem has left the Flyers with an even bigger problem: no reliable starting goalie...not that Emery was that reliable to begin with.

Before I talk about their problems, look at what goalie Brian Boucher did for Philadelphia in the 2000 playoffs. He played in all 18 games and led the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they eventually blew a 3-1 series lead over the New Jersey Devils.

But that was then and this is now, and Boucher has played in just four playoff games since. Not to mention he has only one win in his last 11 games.

So that leaves Michael Leighton, who has had a fantastic run with Philadelphia. The 28-year-old is 16-5-2 with a .920 save percentage since joining the team back in December.

However, Leighton’s playoff experience is only existent in the OHL and AHL. He has never started a playoff game in the NHL. And if even if he did have the experience, he's out 8-10 weeks with an left ankle injury—good luck, Boucher.

Experience is a key word in this discussion, and it is something Chicago Blackhawks’ goalie Antti Niemi doesn’t have either.

Cristobal Huet had the reigns in net at the beginning of the season, but his inconsistency, along with letting in a number of “soft” goals, has put Niemi in the running for starting goaltender for the playoffs.

Huet’s 2.40 GAA and .899 save percentage might not hold up in the postseason. And let’s not forget about his brutal performance against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night, which didn’t help his cause. He surrendered seven goals on 28 shots.

Niemi’s 20-5-3 record cannot be ignored either. But like Rask and Leighton, Niemi has no experience in the playoffs.

The Hawks’ many offensive weapons may be able to bail out whichever goalie they decide to start anyway. However, they have to choose between a lack in experience or a lack in skill—not always an easy choice to make.

Regardless of what these teams decide to do, it will be interesting to see how things play out in the upcoming weeks.


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