As the Anaheim Ducks’ position players struggled through the second period of their 3-2 Game 2 win over the Calgary Flames, goaltender John Gibson seemed to become stronger with every shot he faced.
Overall Gibson made 14 saves on 15 Flames shots on goal in the frame to keep his team within striking distance for the third period. Though there’s a long way to go in this series his heroics cemented the 23-year-old Pittsburgh native as a major positive factor in this series for the Ducks moving forward, something that hasn’t been the case for him in recent playoffs.
Anaheim enters Game 3 against Calgary up 2-0 with Gibson having stopped 65 of 69 shots on goal for a .942 save percentage over that span.
“I haven’t seen a successful team in the playoffs without good goaltending and we have no complaints with what we’re getting that’s for sure,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.
The morning before Game 1 of the series, Carlyle was asked about his decision to start Gibson and the coach played coy – indicating he had made no such proclamation and could go with Jonathan Bernier instead. Gibson was the first goaltender off the ice at morning skate, which generally indicates a team’s starter.
When Gibson was hurt from late February until late March with a lower-body injury, Bernier played well going 11-3-2 with a .931 save percentage. But really, for all year there was little doubt that when Gibson was healthy this was his team.
During the offseason, the Ducks traded Frederik Andersen to the Toronto Maple Leafs, which opened the door for Gibson to take over and he excelled in his first full year as starter with a 2.22 goal-against average and .924 save percentage.
“He had a strong year for us, got hurt and spent a month on the sidelines but when he stepped back in the net he continued on the level with which he was playing before he got hurt,” Carlyle said. “We have all the confidence in the world in both of these guys and Gibby has just solidified his position.”
Though Gibson cemented himself as a strong regular season goaltender over the last two years, he has struggled in the playoffs. In 2013-14 he found himself starting the last four games of the Ducks’ seven-game loss to the Los Angeles Kings and went 2-2 with a 2.70 goal-against average and .919 save percentage.
Last year Anaheim started Gibson against the Nashville Predators in the first-round and the netminder went 0-2 with a 3.08 goal-against average and .900 save percentage. This came after he posted a 2.07 goal-against average and .920 save percentage in 40 games.
There was a belief that Gibson, who was the MVP of the 2013 World Juniors for Team USA, could perform in pressure situations. He just had to prove it in the NHL.
Through two games he has done that for the Ducks, and the team understands they could be tied with the Flames going to Calgary if not for Gibson’s Game 2 heroics.
“When we had that little dip in the second period he came up huge for us and saved us and made us having a tie game going into the third period, so he was playing great,” Anaheim forward Rickard Rakell said.
If Gibson’s past experience has taught him anything, it’s that he needs to stay consistent to win in the postseason. Stringing together two solid performances is fine, but that won’t win a championship.
“It means you’re only halfway there,” Gibson said when asked about going up 2-0 on the Flames. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”
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