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A Guide To The Goalies Of The NHL Playoffs

Goaltenders line up on the ice
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Finally! Christ, I was coming close to having actual opinions on, like, whether or not the Nets should extend Kyrie Irving, but the hockey playoffs are here, just a little behind schedule, to sweep me off my feet.

For this year’s NHL postseason preview I decided to focus specifically on that all-important yet oh-so-persnickety position: goaltender. A cold goalie can shatter your dreams—just ask Pittsburgh—while a hot one can be almost all you need to make them come true—just ask Montreal. In order to adequately prepare you for this tournament, I shall make you aware of them all. All of them! Because do you know how many goalies made at least one save in the postseason last year? Twenty-four! You never know who’s gonna have to be the last line of defense.

The goalies are listed in roughly approximate order from least likely to most likely to get pulled at some point. Let’s begin.

Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers

What’s his deal?

He’s the best in the world, that’s his deal! The league leader in save percentage by a country mile has spent the year building an outside case for himself as the rare goalie who takes home the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP. Auston Matthews’s late-season hot streak, to me, sealed up that hardware for him, but Shesterkin is still without a doubt the envy of every other playoff team. In just his second year as the Rangers’ main starter, the 26-year-old has carried a merely average offense on his back, almost single-handedly giving New York its first real playoff appearance since 2017, when King Henrik still protected the twine. Some slip-ups in Shesterkin’s dominance during the month of March might have painted some question marks on him heading into the postseason, but multiple shutouts in April have helped put him back on track. The Penguins have a brutal task ahead of them, trying to solve a puzzle they couldn’t solve with any of their 30 shots the last time they faced off.

Who’s the other guy?

Alexandar Georgiev, who came up around the same time as Shesterkin and was another potential heir to Lundqvist but, simply put, hasn’t been as anywhere near as good. This season in particular has been his weakest yet, though the Rangers have at least managed a nice little stretch of eight wins across his last nine decisions. If head coach Gerard Gallant is ever in a situation this playoffs where he thinks to himself, “Georgiev might be the better option,” something has gone horribly wrong either in his brain or on the ice.

Show me a save.

Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames

What’s his deal?

Markstrom’s had a fantastic bounceback year after a rocky start to his time in Calgary, helping a team that last year lost more games than it won transform into a 50-20-11 monster, and a group that might be more frustrating to face than any team in the West outside of Colorado. This Swede has kind of secretly been around the NHL for a while, debuting with the Panthers in 2011, but he’s only been a first choice in the league for about five years—first with Vancouver, where he lost his job near the end of his team’s only playoff run, and now with the Flames, where he’s got his first major expectations heading into the postseason. Calgary, without actually changing much more than its coach, has become a vicious and infuriating competitor, and while Markstrom gets plenty of help from the way his skaters are able to keep the puck out of dangerous areas, he should be able to take at least some credit for the league-leading nine shutouts he’s produced this season.

Who’s the other guy?

Dan Vladar, a 24-year-old out of the Czech Republic who’s seen his first major action in the NHL this year after being traded from the Bruins in the offseason. He’s been right around replacement level and doesn’t posses the hype Thatcher Demko did when he as an inexperienced youngster took the reins from Markstrom in 2020, so don’t expect to see him except in a true desperation scenario.

Show me a save.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

What’s his deal?

The king of the crease in Tampa, Vasilevskiy has been a major key to the Lightning’s success ever since he became the undisputed starter in 2017–18. Still just 27 years old, he earned the Conn Smythe trophy with a .937 save percentage in last year’s Cup run, and in each of the Lightning’s last two trips to glory he’s kept the goals against under two per game. Fatigue might be something to be worried about—he’s made a whopping 128 starts since the beginning of 2021—but as long as Vasi holds up, the Bolts have a real shot at a three-peat.

Who’s the other guy?

Brian Elliott, who at 37 years old is wrapping up a pretty quintessential Guy career. Normally I’d consider Vasilevskiy untouchable, but in his first season with Tampa Elliott has enjoyed a small renaissance, putting together his first season with a positive goals saved above average since 2015–16 in St. Louis. I shudder to think what would have to happen for Tampa to abandon its bedrock starter, but Elliott at least appears to be a viable second option.

Show me a save.

Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs

What’s his deal?

For quite a long time, the Leafs were a great collection of skaters in search of reliable netminding, but last season they appeared to find their man. Campbell, formerly a backup in Los Angeles, won the gig in Toronto with a red hot record of 17-3-2 in the regular season, then did everything he could in the playoffs to try and prevent that first-round disaster. Some regression and injury issues attacked him in the middle of this year, but over the last few games, and in this season taken as a whole, he’s stopped more than enough pucks to ensure plenty of those Auston Matthews goals were in winning efforts.

Who’s the other guy?

Unless the regular, mediocre backup Petr Mrazek returns from injury, the bench spot will go to Erik Kallgren, who’s made 12 career starts that have typically been high scoring on both sides. Campbell has been just shaky enough that it’s possible to foresee some struggles for him in the postseason, especially with the Lightning ready to push him to his limits, but he is still by a mile the best-looking goalie the Leafs have.

Show me a save.

Frederik Andersen, Carolina Hurricanes

What’s his deal?

Andersen’s not going to begin this series in net, as he deals with an injury that made him miss the last six games of the regular season. But he better come back soon! After a shaky end to his tenure in Toronto that saw him lose his starting job, the 32-year-old Dane discovered new life in Carolina, putting up a .922 save percentage in his first season with the Canes as he led them to the top of the Metro Division. Last season, when Carolina also finished first in their division and made their run to the second round, I fell in love with the upstart netminder Alex Nedeljkovic and found myself feeling like the Red Wings may have pulled off a heist when they picked him up in the offseason. I was wrong, though. Andersen has proven to be a tremendous upgrade from what the regressing Ned provided this year, and when healthy he’s a critical part of what makes Carolina a contender.

Who’s the other guy?

Rod Brind’Amour, Canes coach, is being annoyingly coy about who will start Game 1 in Andersen’s stead, but it makes sense that it would be main backup Antti Raanta, who’s been fine in that role for the team this season in a kind of fresh start year after leaving Arizona. If it’s not Raanta, then I guess the job goes to Pyotr Kochetkov, a 22-year-old that the Canes drafted in the second round in 2019 who made his NHL debut on Apr. 23. The attacking prowess of the Bruins will be a tough opponent for either of them.

Show me a save.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers

What’s his deal?

Bob isn’t the main reason why the offensively brilliant Panthers have the best record in all of hockey, but unlike his first two seasons in Florida, he hasn’t hurt them either. After a strong run in Columbus—albeit one that didn’t end with a particularly stellar statistical season—Bobrovsky was a pricey 2019 free agent signing for a frustrated franchise that had spent decades trying to figure a way past the first round. The first time around, he was a major disappointment. The second time, he struggled to fend off his backup. But in the third year, with Chris Driedger gone in the expansion draft, Bobrovsky got it together. This time, he started like a supernova and then held it together enough during the course of the season to keep the Panthers better than the league average for goals allowed. And that was all their forwards required.

Who’s the other guy?

Spencer Knight just turned 21, had exactly one spectacular game in the playoffs last year, and otherwise has been an inconsistent middling goaltender as he’s learned the ropes in his first full season. If the Panthers find themselves in need of a sparkplug, he could very easily get the call, but Bobrovsky has pretty comprehensively built the argument over the course of this season that he’s Florida’s number one.

Show me a save.

Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche

What’s his deal?

Overall, the trade that Colorado made with Arizona for Kuemper last offseason has been great for them so far, as he’s provided a .921 save percentage for the scariest juggernaut in the West. But the way I structured that sentence probably lets you know that there’s reason to be nervous. Specifically in this closing stretch of the season, Kuemper’s been a little bit off, and he’s dragged his season save percentage down in each of his last seven starts by allowing at least three goals each time out. Is that something to be worried about, or are the subpar results attributable to the fact that the Avs have been able to coast since, like, February? I guess we won’t find out until the games matter again, but a few rough starts from the goalie would be powerful enough to shake a team that should otherwise be Cup favorites—and whose window of contention may not be open too long. Jared Bednar won’t hesitate to make a change if his goalie play doesn’t go according to plan.

Who’s the other guy?

Pavel Francouz, who like Kuemper is 31 but has seen far less NHL action due to both a long career in the Czech Republic and injuries since coming to America. He struggled in his only playoff appearance, back in 2020, but this year he’s made a solid comeback from a lost 2021 and played to a level just below his starter. And lucky for him, he seemed to escape everything but superficial damage when he took that puck to the noggin while sitting on the bench the other day.

Show me a save.

Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars

What’s his deal?

Sorry but, before I actually get to the goalie, what the hell is up with these dang Stars? They’re 21st in the league in goals scored, and 14th in goals allowed, but somehow that -8 differential was enough to keep them alive. Oettinger wasn’t bad, though. At a mere 23 years old—the first goalie drafted in 2017 by quite a large margin—he’s one of the promising young guys on a team that awkwardly combines some exciting up-and-comers with some old veterans chasing their first Cup. Oettinger (pronounced Ot-In-Jer, by the way) was passable and actually the better performer behind Anton Khudobin in his rookie year last season, and he’s taken an assured step forward in this one, with a record of 30-15-1 and a .914 save percentage. Blink and you might miss his playoffs this time out, but he should be a name worth remembering for the future.

Who’s the other guy?

Braden Holtby was their main backup for most of the year, but right now the healthy guy is Scott Wedgewood, who’s spent a career that began in 2016 bouncing between three different NHL franchises and many more in the minors. There’s truly nothing impressive on his résumé, and he is very much just who you get when your backup gets hurt.

Show me a save.

Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins

What’s his deal?

The 26-year-old was enjoying the best season of his young career with the Penguins, but like Andersen, he too is set to miss at least the first puck drop of these playoffs.. Last year, against the Islanders, Jarry made some backbreaking mistakes that once again prevented Pittsburgh from advancing out of the first round. (They’ve won just one series since their Cup in 2017.) But he shook that off nicely this year as he for the first time took over the undisputed starter gig in a full-length NHL season.

Who’s the other guy?

Casey DeSmith will be in net for Game 1. He’s been a regular backup in Pittsburgh for about five years and turned it around after a rocky start to this one, putting together yet another decent if unspectacular campaign in limited minutes. If he can’t keep up, then Louis Domingue, who’s pretty much the definition of a journeyman, will have to take his place. Either way, it’ll be a tough task even for a healthy Jarry to try and keep pace with the Rangers’ divine Shesterkin across the ice.

Show me a save.

Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers

What’s his deal?

Edmonton has never been a franchise known for its goaltending, and Mike Smith hasn’t done much to disabuse the notion that the Oilers are mostly an offensive showcase. But even though he’s 40 years old and dealt with a thumb injury earlier this season, Smith has been helping them win of late, producing solid start after solid start while the team rebounds from the truly ugly vibes they were showing around the middle of the year. Man, he really is 40 years old. Do you want to know how many playoff starts he’s made since 2012? Just 10, with none of them coming outside the first round. Smith is absolutely not the guy you picture when you think “Stanley Cup winning goalie,” but it’d be a pretty amazing story if he’s the one who leads the Oilers on a run.

Who’s the other guy?

The embattled Mikko Koskinen, who’s about to become a free agent and, I’m sorry to say, probably won’t be missed by many in Edmonton. Their last GM gave him a big contract in the middle of his first season as an Oiler, 2018–19, after coming back from the KHL, but he’s struggled to sustain a level of play that makes him something other than a liability. He still made 43 starts this year, though, so it’s not like Jay Woodcroft is uncomfortable putting him in if need be.

Show me a save.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Minnesota Wild

What’s his deal?

You know this guy! Yeah, come on. If you care enough to scroll down to the middle of a too-long blog that’s entirely about NHL goaltenders, you know who Marc-Andre Fleury is. But I am going to explain to you his deal anyway, because that’s my job. Fleury was always kind of, to me, like the Eli Manning of hockey. He won multiple Cups in Pittsburgh with some clutch playoff efforts but statistically, on the whole, his seasons never stood out as particularly impressive. He ended up in Vegas, when everyone already thought he was a past-his-prime figurehead, and ended up producing what was up to that point the best season of his career while leading the Knights all the way to the Final. And again, when his form dipped and folks wrote him off, Fleury magically pulled out his first-ever Vezina season in 2021. The 37-year-old just has a stickiness to him, and though his play in net this year—first in Chicago, and now Minnesota after a deadline deal—has been far more ordinary, I have no desire to write him off just yet. And with the Avalanche looming in the second round, the Wild will certainly need everything they can get from him.

Who’s the other guy?

The 34-year-old Cam Talbot has done a nice job salvaging his career after a disastrous stint in Edmonton that ended in 2019. He started most of the games for the Wild until Fleury showed up, and was a key factor in pushing Vegas to the limit in the first round last year. I would categorize him as streaky and unreliable, and Fleury has him beat as far as playoff experience goes, but to me, the choice between the two is pretty much a toss-up.

Show me a save an assist.

Not Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators

What’s his deal?

Credit: Gif: Altitude Sports

Who’s the other guy?

Everyone’s the “other guy” if the ankle injury that the Preds top goalie suffered last week keeps him out. Saros played more minutes in net than any other goalie in the NHL this year, and he finished in the top ten in save percentage, so Nashville is picking through the scrap heap trying to replace him. “Big Save” Dave Rittich, seen in the GIF above catching the puck while drawing an interference penalty on the net, was very bad in his few starts this year and could get completely bullied by the powerhouse Avalanche. If he can’t go, the next choice is 25-year-old Connor Ingram, who has played in three NHL games in his career. It’s difficult to imagine an injury as impactful as Saros’s, and the below-average skaters of the Preds look to be in trouble without him.

Show me a save.

No.

Vitek Vanecek, Washington Capitals

What’s his deal?

The Washington Capitals employ two young goalies who’ve split time pretty evenly this year, and neither of them has yet proven to be all that good. The better of the pairing, however, is Vanecek, who almost departed in the expansion draft but has instead given the Caps … well, at least more success in net than any of the Kraken’s goalies. The inconsistent 26-year-old has put up thoroughly underwhelming numbers for the East’s aging final wild card team, but it’s not like—oh, you had a question?

Who’s the other guy?

Yes, thank you for asking. Ilya Samsonov is the other guy. He’s 25, and he too has struggled to be an adequate replacement for prime Braden Holtby. His save percentage this year is a mere .896 (compared to Vanecek’s .908), but if say, the Capitals get wrecked by Florida in their first few games, which they very well could, I guess you might as well give him a try.

Show me a save.

Ville Husso, St. Louis Blues

What’s his deal?

Aside from having a very cool name, the 27-year-old in his second NHL season has been perhaps the most critical factor in the Blues’ resurgence from fringe playoff team to “Oh yeah, I mean these guys did win the Cup pretty recently!” With an astounding 25-7-6 record off a .919 save percentage, the man from Helsinki has helped his boys to an incredible late-season run that has placed their names back into the contenders column, even if they’ll still be crossing their fingers hoping the Avs are upset in the first round.

Who’s the other guy?

You might also be asking, “If Husso is so good, why is he all the way down here?” I’m going to tell you. His backup is Jordan Binnington, who back in 2019 miraculously appeared from out of nowhere to lead what looked like a completely dead Blues team all the way to the playoffs and then the Stanley Cup. As you can imagine from the fact that he is now the second-stringer, Binnington’s play has dropped off since then, but the shadow of his past accomplishments looms large, and a few losses by Husso might be all the temptation Craig Berube needs to try and squeeze some more magic out of his backup.

Show me a save.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

What’s his deal?

Do you remember this dude? He’s barely seen any playoff action since he won his second Cup with the Kings all the way back in 2014, but he’s still here, piloting Los Angeles through a season that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The Kings have a bunch of old guys still left over from the championship squad, and they’re rounded out by skaters who in theory should only be playing complementary roles on good teams, but with their goal differential of +3, they’ve still found a relatively painless way into the postseason for the first time since 2018. Quick himself is of course one of the leftovers, but he’s done a neat job playing at least to league average after three straight poor years that could have spelled the end. However, even though the name still brings with it an echo of glory, this is a goalie who’s won just a single lonely playoff game over the past seven years. I don’t see for that to change much at age 36.

Who’s the other guy?

Cal Petersen, out of Waterloo, Iowa, who once made a record 87 saves in a five-OT loss while playing for Notre Dame. Petersen’s younger than Quick by nearly a full decade, and he got the majority of the starts last year, but this one hasn’t been quite so good for him. His .895 save percentage doesn’t bode well, but the going ahead is tough enough for the Kings that he could likely get an opportunity regardless.

Show me a save.

Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins

What’s his deal?

I don’t put Linus at the bottom because he’s bad. In fact, during a bit of an awkward year at goalie for the Bruins, in which Tuukka Rask tried to make a comeback and then quickly retired, Ullmark’s been very steady. He’d been with Buffalo his whole career up to this point, so this will be the beginning of his playoff life, but he’s really as good as a wild card team can ask for.

Who’s the other guy?

So the reason Ullmark is down here is because his backup, Jeremy Swayman, is essentially his equal in every way except age. Swayman’s only 23, and his contract situation is what dropped him to the minors instead of Ullmark when Rask made his return, but when in the NHL he’s showed great maturity and produced results almost indistinguishable from those of his 28-year-old counterpart. There’s not really a wrong choice between these two, and the difficulty that the Hurricanes present could well mean they both get a shot at figuring out how to stop them. But what I really like about this pairing is the fact that, even though this goalie scenario seems like it would be ripe for competition and tension, Ullmark and Swayman seem to genuinely support each other. Look at what they do after they win!

OK, yeah. The real reason I have Ullmark down here is so I could end with a nice hug instead of some pessimistic prediction.

Show me a save.

Oh, fine. I’ll do that too.

That’s all the goalies! The puck drops on Bruins-Hurricanes at 7 p.m. ET. This blog is over.