For most teams in the NHL, starting a rookie goalie in the playoffs, especially when you come into the series as the underdog, is a nerve-wracking proposition.
For the Detroit Red Wings right now, however, they couldn’t be more confident in their decision to do exactly that.
The Red Wings are currently, somewhat surprisingly, leading 2-1 in their opening round playoff series against the electrifying Tampa Bay Lightning and their league-best offense, and one of the biggest reasons why is the hot play of rookie netminder Petr Mrazek.
Through those three games Mrazek is sporting a sparkling goals against average of 2.25 and an even better save percentage at .930. He actually struggled in Game 2 and was pulled after allowing four goals on 18 shots, but was perfect in Game 3 on Tuesday night, stopping all 22 shots that he faced to secure a huge shutout, and likewise a series lead, for his team.
“(Mrazek) has confidence,” said Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, as reported by USA Today. “He knows he’s a good goalie. If stuff goes against him he forgets about it quick and comes in the next morning and works hard for the next game.”
While Mrazek’s heroics might seem surprising given his rookie status, they certainly aren’t to anyone that’s followed his quietly illustrious career thus far.
The 23-year-old Czech goaltender first emerged into the hockey spotlight at the 2012 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship. Representing his home country, Mrazek was astounding, finishing with a .928 save percentage, one shutout, and the honor of being named the tournament’s top goalie.
His most memorable appearance that year came when the Czech Republic dramatically upset the United States 5-2 in the round robin. Mrazek made a whopping 52 saves that game, and gained some extra fame for his, shall we say, exuberant celebrations:
His ability to shut the door in big games would not be a one-time occurrence, though, as he proved in the 2013 AHL playoffs. Mrazek went 15-9 that postseason, posting a .916 save percentage to help lead the Grand Rapids Griffins to a Calder Cup championship.
With such an impressive track record so far, it should be no surprise that Mrazek has stepped up so well for Detroit. He’s incredibly battle-hardened for his age and is more than qualified to carry the Red Wings even further into these playoffs.