Goaltending the Difference in 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs

There’s an old tenet about post-season baseball that says, “Good pitching trumps good hitting”. Even though hockey is a completely different sport from baseball, it might not be too farfetched to say that good goaltending has shut down good offense in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If one were to take a look at the four teams still alive in the playoffs, they would see the Rangers, Coyotes, Kings, and Devils all fighting tooth and nail for Lord Stanley’s Cup. However, all four teams have had the added benefit of amazing netminding throughout the duration of the playoffs.

Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, and Mike Smith played very well during the 2011-2012 regular season, but the goalies have kicked their play into another gear for the playoffs. Even though all four of the aforementioned teams have been receiving balanced play from their offense and defense, the performances of Brodeur, Lundqvist, Quick, and Smith cannot be cast aside.

This year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs have featured many games that have been dominated by defense, but Quick, Brodeur, Smith, and Lundqvist are showing that some of the best playoff hockey can be played when there is no quarter being given.

Here’s a breakdown of each netminder’s play:

Henrik Lundqvist — New York Rangers

Henrik Lundqvist - New York Rangers

Lundqvist has led the Rangers through the regular season and postseason (bridgetds/Flickr)

At this point of the season, the logo in the center of Henrik Lundqvist’s Rangers jersey could be replaced with a Superman logo. Lundqvist has posted the second lowest GAA (1.57) out of the four remaining goalies and guided New York past the Capitals and Senators in the first two rounds. Some may say that the Senators and Capitals were merely the 7th and 8th seeded teams, but the Rangers have had to put in great efforts to get past both teams.

New York is getting some clutch scoring, but the man they call “King Henrik” has not been one to relinquish his throne this postseason. Out of the 15 games that he has played, Lundqvist has given up two or fewer goals in 11 of those games. Taking Lundqvist out of the equation would be devastating for the Rangers as the goalie has collected two shutouts in 15 games played and has been clutch in various situations.

A successful power-play could help a team make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, but Lundqvist has been making sure that his opponents do not make a living on the man-advantage. Even though he has given up eight power-play goals, Lundqvist has not allowed his opponents to score more than one power-play goal against him in any given game thus far. A goalie can be a team’s best penalty killer and Lundqvist is proving to be the difference for New York time and again in this year’s playoffs. Clutch scoring from players such as Brad Richards and Chris Kreider have helped the Rangers make it to the Conference Finals, but Lundqvist’s value cannot be understated.

New York’s goalie has allowed three goals to be scored on him on four separate occasions in the 2012 playoffs and New York has lost all four of those games. Lundqvist’s margin for error has been very miniscule in this year’s playoffs, but it is obvious that the goalie isn’t losing any focus or confidence as his team journeys further into the playoffs.

Martin Brodeur — New Jersey Devils

Martin Brodeur

'Father Time' hasn't caught up to Brodeur yet (Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE)

As cliche as it may be, Martin Brodeur is seemingly drinking from the fountain of youth. The goalie has always played at a tremendous level in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Devils have gone the furthest in the post-season since 2007 because of their goalie. While Brodeur was pulled in a Game 2 match-up against the Florida Panthers, he has not lost two games in a row in this year’s playoffs. In addition to not losing consecutive games in the playoffs, Brodeur has posted a 2.05 GAA and a .921 Save Percentage in 13 post-season games.

Despite giving up three or more goals in four of the thirteen games that Brodeur has appeared in, the goalie has avenged his poor outings for the most part. After sub-par showings in Games 2 and 3 against the Florida Panthers, Brodeur came back with a vengeance and promptly recorded a record-setting 24th Stanley Cup Playoff shutout. The Devils went on to win a thrilling seven-game series against the Panthers, but Brodeur was right in the thick of things as he didn’t allow more than two goals in the last four games of the first-round series.

Brodeur was greeted with a rough second-round welcome from the Philadelphia Flyers after posting a Herculean Game 7 against the Panthers (43 of 45 shots saved), but the Atlantic Division foes proved to be no match for New Jersey as they were dispatched in just 5 games. Out of the four goalies, Brodeur has faced the second least shots against, but he has played the second-most amount of minutes for his team (789:01). Not only has Brodeur been an Iron Man for New Jersey in the regular season, he has answered the call in New Jersey’s most meaningful playoff games this year. While the New York Rangers handed the Devils a Game 1 Conference Finals loss, history suggests that Martin Brodeur will most likely help his team rebound against a pretty well-known opponent.

Mike Smith — Phoenix Coyotes

Mike Smith Coyotes

Smith has been a perfect fit for the Phoenix system (Ric Tapia/Icon SMI)

Not many would have tabbed the Phoenix Coyotes to be in this year’s Conference Finals at the beginning of the 2011-2012 NHL season, but Dave Tippett’s bunch has been playing tremendous hockey since last October. A large part of Phoenix’s success has been due to the play of goalie Mike Smith, who was a big question mark after the departure of Ilya Bryzgalov seemingly left a hole in Phoenix’s goalie depth. However, Smith has made GM Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett look brilliant all season as he has simplified his play and carried the franchise to within four victories of their first Stanley Cup Finals berth.

Smith has been a force for the Coyotes as he has faced 487 shots and played to the tune of a .943 Save Percentage and a 2.02 GAA. Out of the four remaining goalies, Smith has faced the most shots against. Even though he has played in only two more playoff games than Jonathan Quick, Smith has seen 162 more shots than his current opponent and 70 more shots than Henrik Lundqvist, who has played in 15 playoff games. Smith has faced a barrage of shots in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs and has played in only two games where the opposition has failed to register 30 shots against him. Furthermore, Smith has limited the damage done to Phoenix on the man-advantage by only allowing six power-play goals in 13 games played.

Prior to his days in Phoenix, Smith put himself on the map by stringing together some brilliant playoff performances for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011. It is safe to say that Smith wasn’t expected to be the next coming of Ilya Bryzgalov, but the goalie worked with goaltending coach Sean Burke and his game has improved leaps and bounds as a result. Smith has been constantly tested in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs as he has seen 35 or more shots in 8 of the 13 games that he has played in. While it may be easy for some to fold under pressure, Smith has taken an approach that has allowed him to be mentioned in the same sentence with goalies such as Lundqvist, Brodeur, and Quick.

Jonathan Quick — Los Angeles Kings

Jonathan Quick Kings

The Kings would have missed the playoffs without Quick between the pipes (Ric Tapia/Icon SMI)

Jonathan Quick has arguably been the most spectacular goalie in this year’s playoffs as he has only lost one game and has only given up 3 goals on one occasion. What is even more impressive is that Quick has only allowed three power-play tallies (all against Vancouver) to be scored against him in the post-season. Many expected the high-octane Vancouver Canucks to dispatch the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings in the first round, but LA flipped the script in a big way against Vancouver.

After ousting the defending Western Conference champions, LA made quick work of the St. Louis Blues in four games. Even though the makeup of the Blues and Canucks is drastically different, Quick only allowed six goals against in the entire St. Louis series. Quick’s GAA (1.45) is the lowest of the four remaining goalies and he has posted the best Save Percentage (.951) of the crop as well.

In addition, the Kings have played the least amount of games (11) out of all of the Conference Finals participants. Without Jonathan Quick, the Kings would probably have been a regular eighth seeded team that would not make too much noise in the playoffs, especially when being pitted against the defending Western Conference champions in the first round. Not only has Jonathan Quick made things look easy, he has guided the Kings to an unprecedented appearance in the Conference Finals. After nineteen years between third round playoff appearances, Jonathan Quick deserves the utmost credit for Los Angeles’ playoff success.

What Does This All Mean?

Aside from Brodeur, Smith, Quick, and Lundqvist helping their teams win crucial games, the netminders have made it obvious that putting stock into a goalie can be a decision that pays dividends in the long-run. Martin Brodeur, Jonathan Quick, and Henrik Lundqvist made a name for themselves through solid play in the NHL and were among the top goalies heading into the 2011-2012 NHL season. All three of the aforementioned goalies were viewed as players that were well worth the price of signing and the Phoenix Coyotes were tasked with making such a decision when they were contemplating making a pitch to re-sign Ilya Bryzgalov.

Many teams will continue to put a premium on good goaltending and spend top dollar to attain the services of a premier netminder. However, Don Maloney and Dave Tippett have shown that talent can still be found in the rubble as the signing of Mike Smith illustrated that the Phoenix organization saw enough potential in Smith to sign and install him as the team’s number one goalie after Bryzgalov’s departure. With tremendous mentoring from Sean Burke and backing from Tippett and Maloney, Mike Smith has catapulted his game to unexpected levels.

All in all, the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs have shown that putting stock into the right goalie is just as important as a balanced offense and defense. One could look at another offseason transaction in Philadelphia and see the impact that goaltending can have on a team. Ilya Bryzgalov was signed to be the Flyers’ man between the pipes, but Paul Holmgren was left constantly questioning this decision throughout the 2011-2012 regular season and the duration of Philadelphia’s playoff run.

Other goalies such as Jose Theodore, Braden Holtby, and Craig Anderson illustrated that a goalie can succeed in the right system and that some careful scouting can put a team over the hump without having to spend several millions on top flight talent. While goalies such as Mike Smith may have been the ultimate value signing during the 2011 off-season, it is starting to become evident that a team does not necessarily have to spend millions of dollars to find quality help between the pipes. Getting a proven starting goalie can certainly improve a team’s fortune, but teams such as the Phoenix Coyotes have made it clear that good scouting and solid mentoring from goaltending coaches can go a long way for a given team.

One Comment

  1. Chris Wassel says:

    I am intrigued to see who else takes the torch as far as playoff elite…its always fascinating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>