MONTREAL, QC. — After last year’s Stanley Cup playoff winning run by the Chicago Blackhawks, the word on the street was that NHL teams no longer needed an elite goaltender to win the Stanley Cup. In his list of playoff observations, Rick Stephens wondered if excellent, consistent goaltending still matters in the playoffs or if a new trend is emerging?
After-all, the Chicago Blackhawks had Antti Niemi as their back-stopper, he who had a goals against average (GAA) of 2.63 and a save percentage (Sv%) of 0.910%, ranking sixth and fifth respectively amongst goaltenders having played at least ten games.
The Blackhawks were so confident in him, that they opted to not even re-sign him this season, electing to go with the aging Marty Turco, and adding some fresh blood with Corey Crawford. Crawford would turn out to be a wonderful story this season, and early on in the playoffs against Vancouver.
We all know what happened with Niemi, he signed a contract with the San Jose Sharks, and he and his team are now on the respirator in these year’s playoffs, being down 1-3 to the Vancouver Canucks.
So is goaltending important or not? Let’s see how the numbers shape up in this year’s playoffs for the four starting goaltenders remaining in the playoffs.
In the Eastern Conference, we have Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins facing off against Dyawne Roloson of the Tampa Bay Lightning in a series that is currently tied at two games a piece.
Tim Thomas shows a GAA of 2.34 and a Sv% of 0.929%, ranking him first in both categories amongst goalies left in the playoffs (Carey Price remains as the top netminder in GAA and SV% in the playoffs). Thomas’ statistics are somewhat surprising, although i’m not so sure Bruins’ fans would agree with me. Tim Thomas has been all over the place in these playoffs, often getting caught out of position, and appears to constantly me in battle to find the puck.
Yet, he finds a way to make saves, often at very clutch times. A little fairy seems to float above him pitching lucky fairy dust a top his head. The biggest key has been his defense. His big tough defense has prevented opponents from jumping onto the numerous rebounds Thomas has been leaving around his net, and there have been many.
His opponent, Dwayne Roloson has very respectable stats himself. His GAA stands at 2.51, and his Sv% at 0.925%, ranking him fourth and second respectively. Let’s keep in mind that Roloson allowed six goals in only two periods of the second game in this series, while allowing three goals in less then one period in the most recent game.
It just goes to show how solid Roloson had been up until then, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Guy Boucher come back with him in tomorrow’s game in Boston. The leash might be very short for him, but I would suspect Boucher will bet on him bouncing back, just like he had done following his game two performance, where he went on to only give up two goals in a game they would however lose 2-0.
If he were to falter for a second start in a row, then I would be more inclined to believe Mike Smith might get a start, but then again, this is Guy Boucher, who really knows what he’s going to do.
In the Western Conference, the situation is clearly not the
same as Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks is facing off against Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks, in the series being lead by the Canucks 3-1.
Roberto Luongo is by far the goaltender under the most pressure in these playoffs. Labeled as a playoff choker by many, he looks up to the challenge to prove to everyone he has what it takes to win a Stanley Cup, unfortunately for him, even if that were to happen, many sceptics will most probably say the team won the cup despite him, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Luongo is the goaltender who’s faced the least number of shots amongst remaining starting goaltenders, his GAA stands at 2.37, and his Sv% at 0.917%, ranking him second and fourth respectively.
He’s looked shaky at times, but has so far been able to make the key saves, allowing his team being lead Ryan Kesler, with the now awakening Sedins to put themselves into a great position, now leading 3-1 over the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference finals.
On the other hand, we have Antti Niemi. Remember when we were all talking about him possibly winning back to back Stanley Cups with different teams? Well, we can forget about that now, it’s not going to happen. Don’t cue the comeback, it’s a waste of time.
Antti Niemi has just not shown the goaltending that can win a Stanley Cup, and the Vancouver Canucks are simply too strong for the Sharks. I hate this expression but this time it’s true, the Sharks need Niemi to win games for them, steal them, but it’s simply not happening in this year’s playoffs.
His GAA stands at 3.33 while his Sv% is a whopping 0.895%, ranked last in both categories. If people thought his numbers were unimpressive last year, this will do nothing to help his situation. I’d be mildy surprised if it were to happen, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Antero Niittymaki get a start for the Sharks, he who’s managed to stop 29 of 30 shots he’s faced, in a little over 90 minutes played in these playoffs.
I think we can safely assume that Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks will be in this year’s Stanley Cup finals, now it remains to be seen whether Tim Thomas and the Boston Bruins, or Dwayne Roloson (or Mike Smith?) and the Tampa Bay Lightning, will be their opponent.
- Thomas | GAA: 2.34 | Sv%: 0.929
- Roloson | GAA: 2.51 | Sv%: 0.925
- Luongo | GAA: 2.37 | Sv%: 0.917
- Niemi | GAA: 3.33 | Sv%: 0.895
Who needs goaltending in the playoffs? Of the three teams that are not pretty much counted out at this point (Sorry Sharks fans), I would tend to believe that all three teams believe their goaltending is a big part of why they are in the position that they are, even the Boston Bruins with Timmy Flip Floppin’ Thomas.
Who do you believe is the top goaltender so far in these playoffs?
Follow Stevo on Twitter – @stevofarnham