John Gibson is getting even better as the pressure mounts, but don’t be surprised by his post-season heroics.
The Nashville Predators deserved to win Game 1 of the Western Conference final, but John Gibson didn’t deserve the loss for Anaheim. In Game 2, Gibson got the victory he had earned and this series is all the more compelling because of it.
Heading into the Ducks-Preds showdown, the buzzed-about goaltender was Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, and rightly so – the veteran’s numbers were otherworldly against Chicago and St. Louis, while Gibson has already been yanked twice in the post-season, giving way to backup Jonathan Bernier.
But look closer at Gibson’s larger body of work and you’ll see a young netminder who has been very good and is now heating up to great.
Since returning from a lower-body injury in late March, Gibson has gone 10-4-1, extending back to the regular season and not counting a no decision when he was pulled against the Flames. While Gibson turned aside 30 shots for the 5-3 win in Game 2, Rinne gave up a howler to Nick Ritchie on the game-winning goal.
This is not to say that Rinne’s Conn Smythe-worthy performance through the first two rounds has completely evaporated, but his peer in the other net has been by far the better netminder through the first two games of the series – Gibson stopped 43 to Rinne’s 27 in Nashville’s double-overtime Game 1 victory.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Gibson is getting better as the pressure mounts. This is, after all, the same goalie who earned MVP honors at the 2013 world juniors for the gold medallists from Team USA. Gibson was impenetrable in Russia that year, giving up just two goals total in the medal round while facing shooters such as Mark Scheifele, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Hertl and, ironically, future Nashville standouts Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson.
While Gibson had an excellent team in front of him (Johnny Gaudreau, Seth Jones, Alex Galchenyuk, etc.), his personal stats were exemplary. He led the tournament with a .955 save percentage in seven games, surrendering just five even-strength goals in that time.
Gibson followed that up later in the year by helping Team USA win a shocking bronze at the World Championship and once again he posted incredible numbers – especially since he was still a teenager and this time playing against some of the best men in the world.
Since becoming a regular with Anaheim in 2014-15 (albeit in a backup role), Gibson’s save percentage has increased every year. This season’s .924 mark tied him for seventh among NHL netminders who played at least 15 games and we’re starting to see the high-end of those stats in his post-season play. Now, he has helped the Ducks get within a series of the Stanley Cup final.
Perhaps most beneficial in the long run is that Gibson’s cap hit is just $2.3 million this season – and it will stay that way until the summer of 2019. For a veteran Ducks franchise with a significant amount of long-term contracts already on the books, that’s a huge benefit for GM Bob Murray.
Of course, if Gibson helps steer Anaheim to the team’s second Cup title, cap hit is going to be the last thing on anybody’s mind in that market.