Through almost no fault of his own, Frederik Andersen has never asserted himself as the Anaheim Ducks’ starting goaltender, despite being a consistently above average performer. To compound a season marred with injury and illness, his 22-year old colleague John Gibson received the nod as the Ducks’ playoff starter.
For two games, he had to watch from the bench as his teammates were overrun by the Nashville Predators’ buzz-saw attack.
The Ducks were playing terribly, and Gibson didn’t have any answers. Anaheim was going to need a whole lot more than the measly .900 save percentage their rookie netminder was tallying. With Gibson manning the ship, it felt as if the Ducks had no margin for error.
On the morning of Game 3, head coach Bruce Boudreau announced that Andersen would be his man in net, essentially tasking him with saving the Ducks’ season. It was status quo for Andersen: unwanted when deserving of a start only to be relied upon to clean up someone else’s mess.
The 26-year-old Dane was up to the task and then some, stopping everything he faced en route to a 27-save shutout that may turn out to be a critical turning point in the series for Anaheim.
He took a Shea Weber slap shot off the top of the head during the second period that sent him down in a heap. Being recently concussed, there was real concern that he might have to leave the game. It turned out to be just a momentary scare, much to the relief of the Ducks’ playoff hopes.
Maybe Weber’s patented heat-seeking missile further ignited Andersen, because he made some absolutely spectacular saves afterward, such as this stop on Mike Fisher:
Andersen shows off his greatest strength on this save: his total body control. Even while falling onto his behind, he manages to calmly track the puck with his glove. Great goaltenders like Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist also possess this uncanny ability to never lose control of a situation, always seeming to have an answer.
Aside from giving the series a whole new look, Andersen’s performance was simply a feel-good moment. Relegated to a platoon role after being the starter in the 2014-15 playoffs, his season felt like a roller-coaster. He still managed a remarkable body of work , turning in a stellar .929 save percentage at even strength. To boot, he posted an astonishing .859 mark on high-danger scoring chances, besting Gibson’s .791 by a healthy margin, leaving one to wonder if starting Gibson was the right call in the first place.
In perhaps the biggest game of his career, Andersen proved that he deserves to lead this Ducks team. Yet as it’s always been during his Anaheim tenure, he’ll have to fight to hold on to his job as soon as the puck drops for Game 4. If Tuesday night was any indication, he just might not let go.