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The Fingerprints Are Not the Goalies'

May 14, 2019, 9:36 AM ET [2 Comments]
Jay Greenberg
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We’ve been doing hard time through these playoffs waiting for some goalies to blame. It’s taken much more patience than Petr Mrazek had on Sunday when he dove out at Marcus Johansson and left the back door ajar for Connor Clifton. The paucity of open five holes has been disconcerting.

With the semifinals underway and the picked corners and deft deflections under the crossbars dwarfing the number of leaks in the short side, we were getting pretty desperate to find some tried and true scapegoats. What’s a playoff without them? But finally, with Mrazek’s performance on Sunday, we can take a brief respite from Five-on-Five Score Venue Adjusted in explaining what is going wrong for a team down in a series.

The search went from the top of Andrei Vasilevskiy’s head to the bottom of Alexander’s Kerfoot for one of those good, old, unscreened, humiliating drives right though a goalie from 40 feet out. You know, the kind that drops teammates chins to the ice and ultimately defines why one team goes home and the other goes on?

Had we run a poll on April 8 of a thousand expert armchair netminders on the playoff team most likely be seeking an upgrade in goal this summer, 997 of them would have said the Hurricanes. But that’s not our point here. No cheap shots at Mrazek, well, at least not as cheap as, yikes, that one he gave up to David Pastrnak to start the Hurricanes long day. On the contrary, our point is that these playoffs have given us a window into just how good the goaltending has become in this league. Even the Flyers seem to have a good young one now.

Take Monday night’s series evening win by the Blues over the Sharks. Not a goalie’s game, really, as six goals went in. Once St. Louis got the lead back on the legerdemain of Magic Man Robert Bortuzzo, Jordan Binnington cleared more pucks than he really had to stop, at least until the Blues got the insurance goal. But out of the six scores, only Logan Couture’s second one, driven between Binnington’s legs, really was stoppable. And this is the level of consistency we have accepted as routine.

Back in the good, old days, before Corsi–and we’re old enough to have seen Corsi the man, before he became the stat-we could wrap up practically every playoff series in about two paragraphs and start on the preview for the next one safe with these assumptions:

1) The losing team’s big gun was shut down.

2) One goalie clearly outperformed the other.

Good to know some things are sacrosanct. Vlady Tarasenko to the current rescue on No. 1. and now Mrazek is playing like No. 2. But to this point a whipping boy in goal has been even harder to find than Evgeni Malkin was against the Islanders.

Look around. The 107-point Flames crumbled against Colorado everywhere but in the nets. In a five-game Alamo Mike Smith held the fort to a .942 save percentage. Robert Thomas’s shot off the post fell to where a lucky Patty Maroon could get to it first or the Blues and Stars still would be trying to beat either Ben Bishop or Binnington.

You don’t very often see a goalie turning around a bad regular season and an even worse playoff start, but Martin Jones did, impressively. For two periods of Game Six, and almost all of Game Seven against the Golden Knights, the Sharks looked eminently ready for summer but their goalie was jonesing for a comeback from 3-1 and the long-heartbroken Sharks now are hinting to be as destined as last year’s Capitals.

True, by the end of this year’s Predators, Pekka Rinne was not up to his usual standard. But the two games in the series the Predators won, Rinne outplayed an excellent Bishop. Fair to say, Sergei Bobrovsky was better than Matt Murray, but Bob then bobbed and weaved like Smokin’ Joe Frazier against Tuukka Rask, who never has been better than he was in Game Six. It was a surprise to see the series putaway goal not be a very good one.

When the Blues beat the Jets in the opening round, Connor Hellebuyck had a higher save percentage than did Binnington. So did Frederik Andersson over Rask in Toronto’s seven-game loss to Boston. Want to blame Braden Holtby for the Caps’ reign becoming short and sweet? He was .914 in that series to Mrazek’s .899.

Of course it’s never just about the numbers; more the kinds of goals and their timing. They can be more deflating than the complete transcript of an exclusive interview with Brad Marchand.

Our long-held contention that you might be able to put the trainer in goal–as they did in the old days–and nevertheless pull off a first- round upset held as ever this year. You needed eyes in the back of your head even sharper than Dougie Hamilton’s with Ovie throwing his body around to see the Lightning crumbling as it did despite Vasilevskiy not being the problem. This spring produced carnage like we hadn’t seen since Steve Penney somehow found himself in a semifinal in 1984. But to at least some degree it’s always been like that for a round or two. Plenty of goalies are capable of getting hot. It’s another whole matter to stay that way into June.

One of the reasons why nobody–well, beyond Barry Trotz maybe–thought much of the Islanders going into this season was their journeyman goaltending. Indeed, the bill collector for teams playing on borrowed time is even more relentless than “It’s cash back match people!” The Isles’ netminding finally betrayed them during a sweep by the Canes.

Such is the way it’s always been and always will be. Inevitably, Robin Lehner's and Peter Mrazek's resume end up being, well, Robin Lehner's and Petr Mrazek's. Still, some really good goalies went into summer vacation with consciences clear. It speaks to the growing quality of netminders in today’s NHL that more than ever we see wondrous performances even in defeat.
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