We hear a lot every year about how the team with the hottest goaltender is usually the team to worry about most in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Some goaltender playoff performances are legendary.
In the 1986 Stanley Cup playoffs, Patrick Roy won the first of his three Conn Smythe trophies, leading the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup by going 15-5 with a GAA of 1.92. When he led the Habs back to the Cup in 1993, he went 16-4 with a GAA of 2.13.
Marty Brodeur went 16-5 for the Devils in the 1995 playoffs, finishing with a GAA of 1.67. In 1994, Mike Richter was 16-7 with a 2.07 GAA for the Rangers. In 2002 Domenik Hasek was 16-7 with a 1.86 GAA for the Red Wings.
So come mid-April, when the games get tighter and every game can cause a momentum swing, the focus shifts to the goaltender. So let's take a look at each team in the Eastern Conference, and how their goaltenders have fared down the homestretch. For the sake of easier stat compiling, I started from March 1st for each player.
As you can see, Ward, Fleury, and Tim Thomas have just been lights out down the stretch. Ward posted 2 shutouts in the final weeks, and held the opposition to 2 goals or less a whopping 12 times in 17 games.
Fleury has been almost as good, posting a shutout, and only surrendering more than 3 goals three times in 17 games. Fatigue may have caught up with him in a recent 4 games in 7 nights stretch, he gave up 4 goals in back to back games last week, but after a few days off looked sharp in the finale against Montreal, making 29 saves on 30 shots.
Tim Thomas meanwhile posted a .692 winning percentage for the Bruins, and had 6 games after March 1st with over 30 saves, including a 45 save night against the Flyers on March 29th, a 4-3 Bruins win. He doesn't get as much press as some of the other goalies in the conference, he just very quietly does his job, and is a leading Vezina candidate.
After initially coming back strong from a knee injury, Martin Brodeur was up and down over the final weeks of the season. But he is fresher than he's ever been come playoff time, and it would be foolish to think the 4 time Vezina winner and winningest goaltender of all time won't be on top of his game when the puck drops for Game One against Carolina.
Despite his team's shaky play, Henrik Lundqvist was sharp down the stretch as well. Henrik has won 3 straight, and 4 of the last 6, while giving up only 10 goals in that 6 game span. As Henrik goes, so go the Rangers.
Lucky for Jose Theodore that the Florida Panthers didn't make the playoffs. The Cats scored 10 goals on him in just four periods of play. Theodore was pulled after giving up 4 goals in the first period of the Caps game against Florida on March 1st, then the Panthers lit him up for 6 goals on Saturday night. Theodore has struggled all season, and goaltending will be one of the few areas where the Rangers have an advantage on the Capitals in the first round.
Carey Price will be looking to bounce back from some inconsistent play down the stretch, but its going to be a tall order against the number 1 seeded Bruins and Tim Thomas.