No small deal has been made about the Anaheim Ducks’ ability to continually produce quality goaltenders, but it’s hard to imagine anyone, even Frederik Andersen himself, could have imagined just how much his play in the post-season would improve in one year.
Thought to be possibly the only weak spot on an Anaheim roster that challenged for the top seed in the Western Conference all season, Andersen has done more than simply prove his mettle for the Ducks. Against the Winnipeg Jets, he kept the games close enough for the Ducks to steal victories. In the second round against the Calgary Flames, he outdueled former stablemate Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo. Now, against Chicago, he has shown that it’s going to take supreme skill if the Blackhawks are going to beat him. But last season, it didn’t look like it would always be this way.
In the 2013-14 post-season, Andersen was part of Anaheim’s three-headed goaltending monster of Hiller, Andersen and John Gibson. The trio created one of the strangest goaltending situations in playoff history.
First, Andersen began the playoffs but lost his job due to shaky play in Game 6. Hiller came into that contest and the Ducks came from behind to win the game and, thanks to the victory, the series. In the second round, Hiller got the call against the Kings over Andersen, only to have Andersen swoop into Game 3 after Hiller had dropped two straight. Andersen, however, would injure himself in the contest, which led to Gibson taking the starting job for Games 4, 5, 6 and 7.
With the Ducks eliminated in seven games to the eventual Cup champion Kings, Andersen ended his year with shaky playoff stats – he carried a goals-against average of 3.1 and save percentage of .899 – following a post-season that saw him work relief duty, start and watch from the sidelines all over the course of one month.
This season, though, the Ducks got things sorted out. Hiller left via free agency and Gibson fell to injury early in the year, setting up for Andersen to take the throne as the starting netminder. And while he struggled at times, he was steady enough to pace the Ducks to the top of the Pacific Division.
However, his regular season numbers didn’t do much to make believers out of those trying to poke holes in a Ducks squad that hasn’t quite been able to get the job done in the post-season after years of competitive regular season finishes. Of goalies to play at least 750 minutes at 5-on-5 in the regular season, Andersen finished 32nd in the league in SP with a mark of .919, sitting behind goaltenders such as Antti Niemi, Jake Allen and Jonathan Bernier in that category. In 54 games, he had managed only three shutouts. And in a year with some outstanding goaltending performances, his 2.38 GAA put him 19th in the league.
If there was a way to make a case against the Ducks, it was through the play of Andersen. Suffice to say, that case is a lot harder to make these days.
Through 10 post-season games, Andersen has some of the most impressive numbers in the league. He has played himself to a .930 SP. His 1.86 GAA is stellar and the fifth best mark in the playoffs. His nine wins tie him for first in the league. In the post-season, nothing matters more.
There may have been questions coming into the playoffs about whether or not Andersen could shoulder the load or if, like last season, a goaltending carousel would open up with he and Gibson taking turns stopping pucks. It would appear, however, that the Danish netminder is more than up to the task.
In Game 1 against Chicago, he made 32 saves, allowed one goal and made a save-of-the-playoffs candidate with a paddle stop on Patrick Kane. He has one shutout already and looks primed to put up more. And one year following a less-than-satisfactory post-season in which he allowed 19 goals in seven games, it has taken 10 games for 19 pucks to get by him this playoffs.
Andersen looks ready to face a tough Blackhawks team and be a game-changer for the Ducks. In a series as tight as the Western Conference final looks like it could be, that could prove the difference.