Can Matt Murray backstop Pittsburgh to a third straight Stanley Cup? Will Pekka Rinne, Marc-Andre Fleury or Connor Hellebuyck come out of the Western Conference? Here’s a ranking of the 16 starting goaltenders (or tandems) heading into the NHL playoffs.
1. Pekka Rinne, Nashville
The Predators allowed the second-fewest goals this season, which is impressive considering that only 10 other teams gave up more shots on net. The reason the puck stayed out was Rinne, who tied Andrei Vasilevskiy for a league-best eight shutouts and was amongst the leaders in goals-against average and save percentage.
2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas
William Karlsson scored 43 goals, but the team’s success begins and ends with Fleury, who would’ve been the favourite to win the Vezina Trophy had he not missed a month due to injury. Not only did he have one of the best save percentages in the league, he also ranked third in goals-against average. Plus, he’s the only player on this list with three Stanley Cups.
3. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles
Quick has been a top-10 goalie this season, but he really stepped it up in the last two months when the Kings were pushing for a playoff spot. This isn’t a surprise. Quick, who has won a Conn Smythe Trophy and two Cups, has a history of showing up when it matters most.
4. Tuukka Rask, Boston
The Bruins goalie has consistently been one of the best in the league, but it’s in the playoffs when he is particularly dominant. Though he was a backup to Tim Thomas when Boston won the Cup in 2011, Rask has a 2.12 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage in 53 career playoff games.
5. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh
Murray was in the net for the Penguins’ last two Stanley Cups, but he hasn’t exactly played like a two-time defending champion this season. Maybe it is because of injuries, with the 23-year-old not looking like himself after coming back from a concussion. Or maybe he’s saving himself for another long playoff run.
6. Frederik Andersen, Toronto
Only three teams, all of which failed to qualify for the playoffs, allowed more shots than Toronto this season. The reason the Leafs didn’t also miss the post-season is because of Andersen, whose numbers would have been far better had he not had to work so hard. Of course, when you’re scoring so many goals you can afford to give up a few more shots.
7. John Gibson, Anaheim
The best goalie in the second half of the season can’t seem to stay healthy. A year ago, Gibson suffered an injury in Game 5 of the conference final. This year, he missed time in February and then sat out the final four games of the season because of an upper-body injury.
8. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg
The 24-year-old wasn’t Winnipeg’s starter for the season opener, but after playing in a league-high 67 games — and tying Vasilevskiy for a league-best 44 wins — there is no doubt Hellebuyck is a legitimate No. 1. If there is a question mark, it is that he has never played in the post-season.
9. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay
A Vezina Trophy favourite heading into the All-Star Game, Vasilevskiy’s play has significantly dropped in the second half of the season, when he went 15-8-1 with a 3.37 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. The question heading into the playoffs is which Vasilevskiy will show up.
10. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus
After giving up 20 goals in five games in last year’s first-round loss to the Penguins, head coach John Tortorella implied the Vezina Trophy-winning goalie needed to be mentally tougher. “The regular season is great,” said Tortorella. “But the playoffs are what count.” It doesn’t get any easier against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.
11. Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota
Dubnyk played behind a defence that didn’t allow a ton of shots (31.3 per game) this year. But expect that to change. For one, Minnesota is without top defenceman Ryan Suter. And the Wild’s first-round opponent is the high-scoring Jets, who scored the second-most goals this season.
12. Martin Jones, San Jose
Two years ago, in his first season as a starter, Jones took the Sharks to the Cup final. He took a step backwards last year and has been up-and-down this season, but since the All-Star Game only a few goalies who have played in 20 or more games have posted better numbers.
13. Keith Kinkaid, New Jersey
The Devils backup became the team’s starter when Cory Schneider went down with an injury in February, and since then has not looked back. While his numbers aren’t that impressive — he is outside the top-20 in goals-against average and save percentage — the most important thing is he has found a way to win.
14. Braden Holtby/Phillip Grubauer, Washington
Holtby or Grubauer? For the Capitals, who have alternated the goalies for starts, the answer might be both. If Holtby can find his Vezina Trophy form of 2016, the Capitals could be a threat. If not, they better hope the 26-year-old Grubauer is a late bloomer rather than a career backup.
15. Jonathan Bernier, Colorado
With Semyon Varlamov done for the season, the Avalanche are now forced to rely on Bernier, who went 18-13-3 with a 2.87 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. In other words, the team better hope Nathan MacKinnon can continue to score their way out of trouble.
16. Petr Mrazek/Brian Elliott, Philadelphia
In classic Philadelphia style, the Flyers made the playoffs in spite of their goaltending. Michal Neuvirth is injured, while Mrazek’s goals-against average has ballooned since coming to Philadelphia before the trade deadline. It looks like Elliott now has the net, but the fact he’s missed so much time this season isn’t promising.