Rotating goalies make 2015 playoff interesting

Andrew Hammond photo by Harry How

Young and veteran goalies trade off chances in net

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. May 4, 2015

Twenty-four goalies entered play in the first round of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. With 75 per cent of the teams using more than one goalie, it makes competition ever more unpredictable. Goaltending has always been hailed as the defining factor when it comes to the playoffs. A goalie can steal a game and win a series all on his own. And this year quality goaltending remains an important ingredient for any team’s success.

While rotating goaltenders can get you to the finals—remember when the Philadelphia Flyers with Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher lost to the Chicago Blackhawks—it rarely wins you the championship. The script this year is a bit different though for a number of teams. The Ottawa Senators and the Vancouver Canucks earned playoff berths this year all because of the valiant play of their backup goalies. Sadly when it came down to crunch time, (i.e., a seven-game series) Andrew Hammond and Eddie Lack were unable to pull off any miracles.

However, it was interesting seeing the veterans step in to salvage the series. Number one goalies Craig Anderson of the Senators and Ryan Miller of the Canucks, ended up starting their respective game six elimination games. One might believe that if the coaches were to start their number ones initially the result might have been different, however, with such stellar performances from the rookies and sophomore goaltenders the fans might have been outraged to see that. Hindsight is only so useful in hockey.

The result was perhaps inevitable. You need your number one goalie to perform like a number one goalie if you want to win the Stanley Cup. If you bet on your number two, it’s a huge gamble. There are exceptions of course. In 2006 Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes came in to replace Martin Gerber early in the playoffs to lead the Hurricanes to the championship.

Teams with sound goaltending like New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, and Montreal Canadiens are the undeniable favourites this year. Having consistency on the backend does more for a team than build confidence. With solid goaltending, a team can intimidate the opposition. In a sense, with a goalie as consistent as Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist, opponents are down a point before the game even begins.

Of the teams that have advanced to the second round, the Calgary Flames and the Chicago Blackhawks are the two most notable teams that have succeeded with a rotating goalie strategy. While it has worked so far, if one goalie does not step forward and take the sole responsibility—have reliable performance day after day—then they will surely be eliminated. The Blackhawks are facing the Minnesota Wild with Devan Dubnyk, who has really come into form since escaping Edmonton. It’s hard to bet against the experience of the Blackhawks, but going with the theme, inconsistent goaltending may end up being their downfall.

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