It had been been a long 2,516 games for Calgary Flames goaltender Mike Smith.
On Thursday, Smith became the first goalie in Flames history to record a shutout in the first game of a playoff series, which also coincided with Smith’s first post-season game since May 22, 2012. Smith’s 26-save shutout in Game 1 showed that coach Bill Peters made the right choice going with his veteran netminder over David Rittich, the keeper most Flames assumed would start the series.
On a night where Andrei Svechnikov, 19, became the first player born in 2000 to score – and the youngest player to score two goals in a playoff game since an 18-year-old Dainius Zubrus scored two during in a game back in 1997 – Smith showed that hockey’s greybeards can still get the job done. Only four goalies 37 or over have shutout opponents to open a playoff series, with Smith joining Georges Vezina (37), Tim Thomas (37) and Gump Worsley (42) as the only goaltenders to do.
Smith will always be remembered for his 2012 Stanley Cup playoff performance that saw him help the Coyotes win its first two playoff series’ ever before eventually losing out to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals. Smith had a 1.99 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage for the Coyotes in 16 games, his only playoff run as a starting goaltender. Now, he’s back and looking for blood with a Calgary team that looks destined for another deep spring run.
It’s funny calling Smith old – he’s just 37. For the over-40 crowd reading this, do you feel too old to do your job? No, probably not, but that’s the nature of sports. Smith doesn’t have many playoff runs left in him after this year, so how fun would it be to see him actually pull it off this time?
And while he’s considered an older veteran at his age, there have been 21 goalies who have played past the age of 40, though few played more than 10 games. Let’s take a look at some of the more notable performances by the elder statesmen of the crease in NHL history:
Lester Patrick, 44 (1928)
Patrick’s story is one of the craziest in playoff history. In 1928, Patrick became the oldest goalie to ever play in the Stanley Cup final. The catch? He was actually the team’s head coach. After Lorne Chabot fill injured in Game 2, Patrick jumped off the bench and filled in. At 44 years and 99 days old, Patrick held on for the victory as the Rangers took a 2-1 decision to tie the series at one win apiece. Patrick returned to the bench for Game 3 and the Rangers acquired Joe Miller to finish the series, which saw the team come out on top in the fifth and final game to win the 1928 Stanley Cup. Patrick did have prior experience as a player, playing minor and college hockey as a defenseman, but he’s best known for winning six Stanley Cups as a player, owner, and coach in his over 40 years in the sport.
Gump Worsley, 42 (1972)
Worsley’s overall record of 333-348-149 is far from impressive by today’s standards, but the two-time Vezina Trophy winner racked up quite a few achievements in his 21-year NHL career. Worsley was a workhorse early in his career, playing all 70 games with the New York Rangers in 1955-56. A four-time Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens (at 39 in 1969, he is the oldest goalie to ever win a Stanley Cup), Worsley’s last playoff run with the Minnesota North Stars that put him in the history books. At 42 years and 327 days old, Worsley became the oldest goalie to open up a playoff series with a shutout when he won Game 1 of the 1972 quarterfinal against the St. Louis Blues. St. Louis eventually won the series in Game 7 and the late Worsley would never get another playoff start again. He retired as the third-oldest goalie to play in the NHL, trailing just Maurice Roberts and Johnny Bower.
Johnny Bower, 42 (1967)
It’s been 52 years since the Toronto Maple Leafs last won a Stanley Cup. The youngest player on the 1996 Cup team, Jim McKenny, is 72 now, and the oldest living player is 91-year-old Red Kelly. That title was held by Bower until his passing in 2017 following a short fight with pneumonia. He was 93. Bower was a warrior in every sense: he battled poor eyesight his entire career and didn’t make his NHL until he was 29. In 1967, a 42-year-old Bower started four playoff games for the Leafs after splitting time with Terry Sawchuk, helping the Leafs win its 13th championship.
Dwayne Roloson, 41 (2011)
In 2005-06, Roloson, 36, took an eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers team to the Stanley Cup finals, only to get injured in the first game against Carolina and replaced by Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen. The Oilers lost the Cup in Game 7 and haven’t had a long playoff run since, but Roloson would get another extended spring run with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010-11. Roloson, then 41, had a respectable 18-12-4 record in the regular season, but he took centerstage when he shutout the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of Tampa’s first-round series. Roloson helped take the Lightning to the conference final, where they ultimately lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7. The next season, Roloson became the last player born in the 1960s to play in the NHL, but he called it quits at 42 after Tampa missed the 2012 playoffs. (Fun fact: Roloson is the last goalie to play a playoff game after the age of 40.)
Dominik Hasek, 37 (2002)
Between two retirements and a late-career revival in Europe, the 2000s were a weird time in Hasek’s Hall of Fame career. After losing to the Dallas Stars in the 1999 Stanley Cup final, Hasek earned a second opportunity at the sport’s ultimate prize with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002, a chance he wasn’t going to let slip away. In 2001-02, at 37, Hasek posted the best record of his career (41-15-8 in 65 games). In the playoffs, Hasek went 16-7 record with a .920 SP, 1.86 GAA and six shutouts, the most all-time in a single playoff run before Martin Brodeur recorded seven the following year, to become the second-oldest goaltender to win the Cup. Hasek won the Cup again in 2008 at 43 but only played four games in the post-season. Chris Osgood did most of the heavy lifting.