It doesn’t matter if you’re an NHL team that’s had great regular-season success – if you have the misfortune of running into a white-hot NHL goalie, you could be out of the playoffs in the blink of an eye. Here are the five netminders teams should fear most entering this post-season.
One of the things that keeps NHL GMs awake at night is the prospect of facing a white-hot goaltender in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Your team could be a President’s Trophy winner, but if you follow up regular-season domination with a showdown against a netminder who gets in your players’ heads via consistently outstanding performances, the only thing you can do is sit by helplessly and wish you had a goalie who had as much impact on the outcome of games.
This season, there are five (or so) of those type of performers quite capable of giving opponents nightmares in the playoffs. Here are the top five goaltenders to be absolutely petrified of (unless they play for your favorite team) in the 2015 post-season:
5. Andrew Hammond, Ottawa Senators. The man known as “The Hamburglar” has the city of Ottawa in the palm of his hand thanks to his unreal 14-0-1 record – and if he can lead the Sens to a Wild Card post-season berth, there’s every chance his magic continues and he plays an instrumental role with a special playoff run. People are going to be waiting for his Cinderella start to go full pumpkin, but the 27-year-old Hammond is playing with house money in this first chapter of his NHL career. As a soon-to-be restricted free agent, he’s also got a clear financial incentive to stay hungry and capitalize on the opportunity the fates have provided him.
4. Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild. Dubnyk made his 32nd consecutive start Tuesday against the New York Islanders and won his 24th game for the Wild since being acquired from Arizona Jan. 15. Like Hammond, he’s an unknown quantity as a playoff force at the NHL level, but that can make a goaltender more dangerous; sure, there’s a possibility he crumples under the pressure, but there’s also a possibility he rises to the occasion and leads the Wild to their second consecutive first round series win and perhaps beyond. Like Hammond, Dubnyk is going to need a new contract this off-season; however, the 28-year-old former Oiler and Coyote will be an unrestricted free agent and every save and win he records will help him drastically increase his salary from the relatively paltry $800,000 he’s playing for this year. Dubnyk has been a perfect fit so far in Minnesota and until a team figures out his weaknesses with his current team, he’ll give opponents and their fans heart palpitations.
3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers. Lundqvist was one of the key members of the Eastern Conference champion Rangers last season and has been recuperating from a serious neck injury that’s sidelined him since Feb. 2. He’ll need a while to get his timing back, but the 33-year-old has been one of the league’s most consistent netminders for the past decade – and although backup Cam Talbot has played extremely well in Lundqvist’s absence, the Blueshirts will need the suave Swede to be as good as he was for them last spring if they hope to win it all. Some observers believed he struggled with rebound issues in the 2014 Cup Final against the eventual champion Kings, but Lundqvist has an even deeper team in front of him this season and recognizes he won’t get chances like this forever. He’s as motivated as he’ll ever be, and that should worry everyone who lines up to play the Rangers.
2. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings. If you’re judging him strictly on the basis of his 2014-15 statistics, you might expect Quick to have less of an effect on the outcome of playoff games this season. (And indeed, after the struggles he and the Kings have experienced in the current campaign, there’s no assurance L.A. will even make the post-season.) That said, when you’ve won two of the past three NHL championships and been one of the most incredible big-game goalies in recent memory, people count you out at their own peril. The 29-year-old Quick can’t flip a switch and give you astonishing results each and every night, but he’s got the benefit of familiarity with his teammates and a track record few can match.
1. (tie) Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens; and Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators. The two most outstanding goaltenders in the NHL this year are constant dangers to steal a game – and, once the regular-season ends, to steal a series or two (or three). You’ll need a microscope and a lot of patience to find flaws in the approach of either star, and the only choice opposing coaches may have to try and beat them is to constantly crash the net in an attempt to rattle them mentally. In addition both Price and Rinne have injury-related disappointments in the past season they’re planning an answer to. That answer could be comprised of a slew of shutouts and very big victories at the biggest time of the hockey year.