When you look back at the first round of the playoffs, you could legitimately make the case for five different players as the most valuable player. And they would all be goalies.
With the exception of the first round series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, heretofore known as The Series That Goaltending Forgot, this playoff is quickly becoming the year of the goaltender.
Of the eight teams that enter the second round, six of them have a No. 1 goaltender with a save percentage of .940 or better. And when it comes to the star of the first round, how do you choose among Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes, Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals?
All five were instrumental in their teams winning their first round series. Check that, they were all enormous difference makers. They’re also in large part responsible for scoring being way down from the regular season. The other reason is the rodeo has come back into most NHL cities since the calendar turned to April and the league’s on-ice officials – a group that traditionally has been defended in this corner – have collectively done an abysmal job of calling even the most egregious on-ice infractions.
Not including shootout goals this season, teams scored an average of 5.32 goals per game during the regular season. Through the first round of the playoffs, that total went down to 4.86 per game, despite the fact the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series featured three games that exceeded 10 goals. But even when you remove that series and the lowest-scoring series of the playoffs (Los Angeles and Vancouver), the number of goals per game dips to just 4.34.
Holtby, meanwhile, is conjuring up images of Ken Dryden in 1971. Like Dryden, Holtby took the reins as the No. 1 goalie in the playoffs and was charged with the task of stopping the defending Stanley Cup champion in the first round. Holtby, backing a Washington Capitals team that seems to have finally embraced the concept of team defense they never could under previous coach Bruce Boudreau, did just that and almost as spectacularly as Dryden did.
Against the Bruins, Holtby stopped 233 of 248 shots in seven games for a save percentage of .940 and a goals-against average of 2.00. Against the Bruins in 1971, one of the most prolific offensive juggernauts in the history of the game, Dryden stopped 260 of 285 shots for a .912 save percentage and a 3.57 GAA. Different eras and different circumstances to be sure, but the bottom line is that neither the ’71 Canadiens or the 2012 Capitals get out of the first round without a rather unheralded rookie goaltender saving their season.
• Depending on what happens over the summer, it will make for an interesting Hall of Fame induction class in 2015. If it’s indeed the case that Nicklas Lidstrom and Daniel Alfredsson have played their last NHL games, it could be the first time we see an all-European induction class.
Lidstrom is, of course, a slam-dunk. So is Teemu Selanne if he decides to finally retire after this season. Alfredsson is a borderline Hall of Famer and if he gets in, will be the first player from the modern-day Ottawa Senators to get the call. Your trusty correspondent would not put Alfredsson in the Hall of Fame, nor Mats Sundin when he comes up for induction this summer, but both players will undoubtedly get serious consideration.
(Both Sundin and Alfredsson are very good players who have had very good careers. But in my opinion, the Hall of Fame should be reserved for truly great players and, no offense, but neither Sundin nor Alfredsson meets that criteria.)
So if Martin Brodeur does not retire after this season, that could set things up for three Europeans to be inducted in 2015. And perhaps if the Hall of Fame’s selection committee ever gets over the bias it has against Pavel Bure, it could see fit to make 2015 an all-European induction ceremony.
If that were to transpire, they would join the ranks of the seven European-born-and-trained players who are currently in the Hall of Fame, along with possibly Sundin this summer and certainly Peter Forsberg in 2014.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.