Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rating the 16 Goalies Heading into the Playoffs

The Sweet 16 - a phrase served best for the recently-concluded NCAA Tournament, but can hold true for the 16 teams that vie for the Stanley Cup. No team wins the Stanley Cup without strong play from their netminder and thus we rate the top netminders from 16 to 1 as we begin the chase for Lord Stanley.

16. Tim Thomas, Bruins - There may not be a more exciting goalie to watch in the league. No goalie shows more emotion than Thomas, but that can also be his downfall. He almost single-handidly kept the Bruins in the playoff race, going 4-1-1 with a 1.48 GAA in his final six starts of the season. He was fourth in the league this season in save percentage (.922) but has never played in a playoff game.

15. Martin Gerber, Senators - Much like the Senators themselves, Gerber has gone through two "seasons" already even before the playoffs start. He was 12-1-0 with a 1.75 GAA in his first 13 starts to the season, but won just 18 games in his final 44 starts after that and had a GAA over 3 in that stretch. Gerber has started just four playoff games in his career, but was a part of two teams that went to the Stanley Cup Finals in the Ducks and Hurricanes.

14. Martin Biron, Flyers - It's pretty hard to believe this is Biron's 12th NHL season and yet he has never even appeared in a playoff game. That's what happens when for years you back up someone by the named of Dominik Hasek. Biron did post his first 30-win season since 2001-02 and his highest save percentage of his career (.918). Biron finished the regular season in spectacular fashion, posting consecutive shutouts against the Devils and Penguins.

13. Dan Ellis, Predators - A forgotten man in Dallas, Ellis has taken the reigns as the top goalie for the Predators. In just 37 starts this season, Ellis posted a franchise-record six shutouts and recently finished a stretch where he didn't allow a goal in 233 minutes and 38 seconds. The 27-year-old netminder also led the NHL in save percentage (.924). Like many goalies in this postseason, Ellis has never played in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

12. Jose Theodore, Avalanche - It's been a huge bounce-back season for Theodore, who had struggled since coming over to Colorado at the 2005-06 trade deadline. Down the stretch, Theodore was a mainstay for the Avalanche, going 12-4-1 withb a 2.27 GAA in his last 18 starts. Theodore was playoff-tested in Montreal and was the Canadiens netminder when he helped pull off the upset against the Bruins in 2004.

11. Niklas Backstrom, Wild - Backstrom made a splash in his rookie season last year with the Wild and continued his strong play in 2007-08, leading the Wild to the Northwest Division title. He finished in the top 10 in wins, GAA and save percentage this season and was impressive down the stretch, posting an 8-1-4 record in his final 14 starts. Backstrom played well in his only playoff series of his career last season against the Wild, not allowing more than three goals in any of the five games, but the Wild went down in five games.

10. Marty Turco, Stars - Is this the year? That was the slogan for the NHL's PR campaign this season and that question can hold for Turco's playoff history -- Is this the year he takes the reigns and leads the Stars on a long playoff run? Turco has won only one playoff series in his career and no goalie had a hard-luck situation in one series than what he went through last season. In a seven-game defeat to the Canucks, Turco posted three shutouts, a 1.30 GAA, including 51 saves in a 4-OT loss in Game 1.

9. Cristobal Huet, Capitals - Alex Ovechkin may be the MVP of the league, but the Capitals most likely aren't in the playoffs without Huet's stellar play since coming over from Montreal at the trade deadline. Huet went 11-2-0 with a 1.63 GAA and an awesome .936 save percentage in 13 starts in a Capitals uniform as Washington won the Southeast Division on the next-to-last day of the season. Unfortunately for Huet, he has a little bit of adversity to overcome in the playoffs. He was Montreal's netminder in 2006 when it lost in six against Carolina in the East Quarterfinals, a series in which the Canadiens led 2-0 going home. Huet played well in defeat, allowing just a total of nine goals in the final four games.

8. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins - A No. 1-overall pick with tons of pressure on him in Pittsburgh going into the playoffs. That description not only holds true for Sidney Crosby, but for Fleury too, who was the top pick in the 2003 NHL Draft. Fleury missed an extended period of time with a high ankle sprain, like Crosby as well. But in his return, he showed no ill-effects, posting a 10-2-1 record with a stellar 1.53 GAA and .947 save percentage in 14 starts. Fleury also gets to exact some revenge on the team that handled him in his only playoff appearance -- the Senators, who knocked out the Pens in five games last season. Fleury had a dreadful 3.77 GAA in the series.

7. Carey Price, Canadiens - A rookie netminder heading into the playoffs, stop me if you've heard this before in Montreal. Like Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden before him, Price has the weight of the top hockey market on his shoulders, something he's thrived on. He was 12-3-0 with a 2.12 GAA after the trade deadline when Montreal traded Huet to Washington. While Price has never played in a Stanley Cup playoff, the 20-year-old won the Calder Cup and was MVP of the playoffs last season. Price also was named Tournament MVP at the 2007 IIHF World Junior (U20) Ice Hockey Championship as he led Canada to the gold medal.

6. Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames - It's tough being a goalie under Mike Keenan and Kiprusoff joins a long list of netminders who struggled in the coach's system. Kiprusoff posted his second-highest single-season GAA (2.69) and a save percentage of .906 which ranked 30th this season. However, Kiprusoff has been known to steal games, especially in the postseason. He was the netminder for the Flames in their run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004, a year in which he posted a 1.85 GAA and .928 save percentage in 26 games. Unfortunately for him and the Flames, they have bowed out in the Quarterfinal round in each of the last two postseasons.

5. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers - He's got the looks to be a star in New York, but can Lundqvist guide the Rangers back to the Stanley Cup Finals? By looking at his stats, the answer is a firm yes. He led the league in shutouts and became the first Rangers goalie to post 10 shutouts since John Ross Roach posted 13 shutouts in 1928-29. Last season, he was stellar in the playoffs as he allowed just six goals total in a four-game sweep of the Thrashers in the Quarterfinals and played well in defeat to the Sabres in the Conference Semis. Lundqvist faces the New Jersey Devils this time in the Quarterfinals, a team he went 0-3-0 in the 2006 playoffs against but was 7-0-1 against this season.

4. Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks - The league's hottest team heading into the playoffs is led by the netminder who finished the regular season two wins shy of the single-season NHL record (46). Nabokov was also third in GAA at 2.14, but was 23rd among qualifying goalies in save percentage at .910. Nabokov also started 43 straight games during one point of the season, the second-longest streak by a goalie since the 1989-90 season. He does have plenty of playoff experience, starting 44 games in his career, but hasn't been able to get the Sharks over the hump and into the Stanley Cup Finals so far, losing to the Flames in the 2004 Conference Finals. Last season, Nabokov had an impressive 2.09 GAA in the Conference Semis vs Detroit, but the Sharks lost in six -- a series they led 2-1.

3. Dominik Hasek & Chris Osgood, Red Wings - Hard to argue with this tandem, so hard that it's tough to put who will get the bulk of the playing time in the postseason. They take home the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals against the season (184) and both were ranked in the top 4 in GAA, including Osgood's league-leading 2.09 GAA. There's also a ton of playoff experience between the two of them, a total of 202 playoff games combined. Osgood is a two-time Stanley Cup winner and Hasek was the backstop the last time Detroit took home hockey's holy grail in 2002. That was also the last time a team won the Presidents' Trophy and Stanley Cup in the season, something the Red Wings hope to do this postseason.

2. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ducks - No team has repeat as Stanley Cup champions since Detroit in 1996-97 and 1997-98, but Giguere might give the Ducks the best chance to end that streak this playoff. He won 30+ games for a third straight season and was second in the NHL in GAA at 2.12. Giguere though, makes his money come playoff time. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in a LOSING effort in 2003 as he led the Mighty Ducks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003. Then last season he helped the Ducks to the title with a 1.97 GAA in 18 playoff games. And we haven't even talked about his play in OT. How about a 12-1 career playoff OT record that includes a NHL-record shutout streak of 197 minutes and 52 seconds. In 250:47 career playoff OT minutes, Giguere has a 0.24 GAA and a .990 save percentage.

1. Martin Brodeur, Devils - This was supposed to be the year Brodeur showed he was human. Gone were Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski, the Devils had a new coach, their offense struggled pretty much all season. Yet Brodeur still wins 40 games for a NHL-record third straight season and seventh time overall while leading the Devils to the 4 seed and home-ice in their series with the Rangers. However, he has played in at least 70 games in 10 straight seasons and appeared to be tired in the playoffs when the Devils were bounced in five games to the Senators last season. But it's hard to knock this playoff resume: 3 Stanley Cup rings, 4 Stanley Cup Finals appearances, 94 playoff wins (2nd all-time), 164 playoff games (2nd all-time) and 22 playoff shutouts (1 away from tying the NHL record).


Nick Loucks said...

Ho hum, another hockey blog singing the praises of Marty Brodeur... Wake me when this guy goes out on a limb...

what about Dan Ellis, who has clearly been the most dominant goalie this year if he got Marty's playing time?

- Anonymous

Nick Loucks said...

In all seriousness... give me a 1st-round series "upset" ...

or even better... a sleeper Cup winner.. Vegas has these odds right now.