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The Wild’s Goalie Platoon Didn’t Pay Off

DALLAS, TX APRIL 19: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Minnesota Wild tends goal against the Dallas Stars in Game Two of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center on April 19, 2023, in Dallas, Texas (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

The saying in football is that if you have two quarterbacks, you have none—meaning that if neither signal-caller has done enough to make himself the clear starter, you're hosed. The case is very much not the same in hockey—a team drools over the possibility of having two excellent netminders who can spell each other, like the Minnesota Wild have this year. If you have two goalies, you have two goalies. But that still leads to some hard decisions, and sometimes you get burned.

Young Filip Gustavsson (37 starts, .931 save percentage, 2.10 GAA) emerged as option 1a this season, and was the obvious choice to start Game 1, which Minnesota snatched from Dallas in double overtime. But there was no shame in being 1b, and old Marc-Andre Fleury (45 starts, .908 save percentage, 2.85 GAA) was effective as well, and Wild coach Dean Evason indicated he'd likely continue to rotate goalies in the playoffs. After Gustavsson made 51 saves on Tuesday, though, it would have been just as logical to ride the hot hand as it would have been to give Gustavsson some valuable rest. Evason never blinked, telling Fleury on Tuesday that he'd get the start for Game 2. "It's what we do, right?" Evason said. "We've done it all year."

Indeed, though to better effect than this. The very first shot Fleury faced all game, and since April 11, was by a shorthanded Roope Hintz, given a breakaway by a sloppy Wild zone entry. Welcome back, Flower.

If you think Fleury looked frustrated at giving up that one, it'd get worse. Tyler Seguin made it 2-0 with a tip-in of a puck that Fleury never saw, and after the Wild halved the deficit before the first intermission, the Stars added another pair in under a minute and a half. First a softie by Jamie Benn, then Evgenii Dadonov cleaned up a juicy rebound.

The Wild would crawl back within a goal, but Dadonov's second, on a redirection, put things out of reach, and all that was left was for Hintz to score a couple more to complete his hat trick.

These goals are Fleury's fault only to varying degrees. The Wild allowed six power plays, and 15 high-danger chances. Evason came to his defense. “Nothing was on Fleury tonight, it was all on us. ... They had a short-handed breakaway and two power-play goals. What would you like Fleury to do?"

Still, seven goals (on 31 shots) is seven goals. At worst, depending on how much weight you put on xG, Fleury allowed four that he shouldn't have. At best, he didn't steal any. Against a steady Jake Oettinger (who idolized Fleury growing up), and unable to generate offense like the Stars, the Wild can win if the have the best goalie on the ice—and have no chance if they don't.

"Oh man, embarrassing on my part giving up seven goals like that in the playoffs," Fleury said. "I gave up too many goals. I think we had to open up to try to come back in the game and we gave up more chances, but bottom line, I didn't make any good key saves in the game."

Fleury's been around long enough to be pretty sanguine about this one, and for it not to affect him if and when he gets another start. This series is headed to St. Paul tied at a game apiece, and wide open. At least there'll be no tough choice for the Wild to make about who'll be in net on Friday.

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