May 20, 2010
When we talk about postseason hockey, we tend to put a lot of emphasis on goalies. The conventional wisdom says that a team with the best goalie has the best chance of winning the Cup. But what about when the best goalie wasn't the best goalie all season? What about when your goalie is hot, but not necessarily dominant?
This is what we're seeing right now in the playoffs: three former backup goalies putting together tremendous playoff runs, despite being just about anonymous a few weeks ago.
In Montreal, we've seen Jaroslav Halak(notes) put together some incredible games despite not really establishing himself in Montreal until the end of the regular season. Halak was hardly a household name until the playoffs (unless you're a fan of his agent's Twitter feed). Of course, with the Habs down two games in the conference finals, people are starting to call for Carey Price(notes), Montreal's bigger name goalie, to start a few games. But that's less a reflection on Halak's play and more a comment on Montreal's need to shake things up a little bit.
Contrast the rise of Halak with the play of Marc-Andre Fleury(notes), the Stanley Cup-winning goaltender of the Pittsburgh Penguins that Halak outdueled in the second round of the playoffs, who is a much bigger name in goalie circles. Fleury's playing golf while Halak is fighting to keep Montreal in the post-season.
And look at Philadelphia Flyers netminder Michael Leighton(notes), who came out of nowhere to help the Flyers all the way to the conference finals. Leighton was a waiver claim the Flyers hope they would never need to use, let alone start, and suddenly he's saved their season. Twice.
Once again a relatively unknown goalie topped the more famous one.
Things are similar in the Western Conference. Not only did Antti Niemi(notes) of the Chicago Blackhawks outplay the considerably higher paid Cristobal Huet(notes) for the team's starting goalie job, but also he beat Roberto Luongo(notes), one of the Vancouver Canucks' franchise players, in the second round of the playoffs.
The fact of the matter is, while a big-name goaltender certainly doesn't hurt a team's chances of winning the Cup, the lack of one doesn't mean a team can't win it.
And I'll pause here while the Detroit fans cue up their comments about how many Cups Osgood has won.
But prior to that, the Stanley Cup went to teams with legendary goalies: Mike Richter, Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek(notes), Patrick Roy, and Ed Belfour(notes) all led their teams to Cups. In fact, to find another average goalie winning the Cup, you have to go back to 1998, when Osgood did it for Detroit.
I'll pause here while the Detroit fans cue up their comments about how underrated and underappreciated Osgood is
GMs want to believe that goalies can win Cups. And goalies can win Cups. But the thing of it is, it isn't always the big name goalie that wins the Cup anymore. We're seeing that in these playoffs. Teams are better off with a hot, anonymous goalie than a big name goalie that's not at 100%.