Alternating goalies in the playoffs rarely results in Stanley Cup

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 injury problems.

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.