The last time an NHL team won the Stanley
Cup by splitting their goaltending duties during the playoffs was 44 years ago.
However, with 21 different netminders being used by the 16 clubs during the
first round of the 2015/16 postseason, this streak may soon come to an end.
While some teams may go with goaltending tandems during the regular season,
most of them stick with the goaltender who has the hot hand during the
playoffs. Both the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks went with a successful
two-goaltender system this season though and have had to use both goalies so
far in the playoffs.
Dallas won the Western Conference and the Central
Division this season by playing Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi in while Anaheim
won the Pacific Division with John Gibson and Frederik Andersen sharing the
crease. In fact, Anaheim’s duo won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals
against in the league at 192. Anderson posted a record of 22-9-7 along with a 2.30
goals-against average and a 91.9 save percentage. Gibson went 21-13-4 with a
goals-against average of 2.07 and a save percentage of 92.0.
Gibson started the playoffs in net, but
after losing the first two games at home to the Nashville Predators, coach
Bruce Boudreau has replaced him with Andersen and the Ducks have bounced back
with three straight wins. Dallas also had the option of two fine netminders who
both won 25 games each this year. Lehtonen went 25-10-2 with a 2.76
goals-against average and a 90.6 save percentage while Niemi was 25-13-7 with a
2.67 goals-against average and a 90.5 save percentage. Stars’ coach Lindy Ruff
found himself in the same boat as Boudreau as he’s switched between goalies
after they each suffered a loss.
The Detroit Red Wings used two goalies in
their five-game defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the same
reason. Veteran Jimmy Howard started the series, but was benched in favour of
youngster Petr Mrazek after dropping the first two games on the road. But in
all three of these instances, the goaltending duties were split as a way to
spark the respective teams. The coaches felt a change was necessary before it
was too late. The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers have also used two
goalies so far in the postseason, but this was because the Rangers’ Henrik
Lundqvist was injured and then played poorly and Pittsburgh also ran into
Very rarely do you see a head coach change
goaltenders during the playoffs these days when his team is winning because
they don’t want to tinker with success. This wasn’t always the case though as
the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1971/72 when coach Tom Johnson split
the duties between veterans Gerry Cheevers and Eddie Johnston. Playoff tandems
were also common in the 1980s as Chico Resch and Billy Smith often alternated
in net for the New York Islanders. However, the team didn’t start winning
Stanley Cups until Smith was handed the number-one job.
In the past 26 years, just seven clubs have
reached the Conference Finals by alternating goalies in the playoffs. The Philadelphia
Flyers were the last to do it when they made it as far as the Stanley Cup Final
in 2009/10 by starting Michael Leighton 14 times and Brian Boucher 12 times. It
didn’t work in the Final though as Chicago won the cup in six games. History
has shown that teams which stick with a designated goalie, win or lose, have
been the most successful in the playoffs.
Records show that just six teams have
managed to win the Stanley Cup while playing more than one goalie on a regular
basis in the playoffs. These were the New York Rangers in 1927/28, the Detroit
Red Wings in 1936/37, the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1950/51, and the Montreal
Canadiens in each of the 1952/53, 1964/65 and 1968/69 seasons. If a team does
hoist the cup this year by using more than one goalie, it’ll likely be because
of injury problems or poor play by one of the netminders rather than by design.
Labels: Ian Palmer