A hot goalie can take his team deep into the playoffs, but a cold one can also go pretty far with a strong enough team in front of him. A goaltender has won the Conn Smythe Trophy six out of the last 20 years, but we've also seen some pretty mediocre performances from Stanley Cup champion goalies.
We may well be in for another one this year. The Ducks’ Frederik Andersen is the only remaining goalie in the playoffs with a goals-against average under 2.00, and the rest of the pack have all had their struggles this post-season. Henrik Lundqvist is just getting over allowing 12 goals in two games, and Ben Bishop just allowed five goals in back-to-back appearances. Then there's Corey Crawford, who temporarily lost his net to Scott Darling earlier this post-season.
The goaltending hasn't been great, but does that mean Andersen is the odds-on favourite to win the Cup this year? Or will a mediocre performance in net be enough to carry the Rangers, Lightning or Blackhawks to the final?
The latter is certainly possible. Just look at these five netminders. To quote former Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, these guys were OK. Just OK.
5. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes, 2006
At first blush, Cam Ward's numbers from his 2006 Stanley Cup-winning playoff run look like nothing special. The then-rookie Hurricanes goaltender had a 2.14 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and two shutouts through 23 games, which seems competent, though not outstanding.
But put his numbers up against other playoff goalies from that year, and it quickly becomes clear why he won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Ward had a better GAA than the likes of Dwayne Roloson, Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur in 2006, and while his numbers weren't the best, he got the job done when it mattered.
The whole year was a bit of a statistical anomaly for goaltending. Netminders were going through the post-lockout transition to a more offense-friendly set of rules, and many veterans struggled to adapt to the changes, which included a reduction in the size of their equipment.
Ward's numbers were "just OK" by today's standards, but compared to his peers, they were actually pretty great in 2006.
4. Chris Osgood, Detroit Red Wings, 1998
You could argue Chris Osgood’s “good, but not great” reputation dates back to the 1997-98 season, when he was good, but not great between the pipes for the Detroit Red Wings. Osgood took the reins in net that year from Mike Vernon after the Wings’ 1997 Stanley Cup win, and he failed to post the same quality numbers as his predecessor.
Vernon had seized the net from Osgood in 1997 to lead Detroit to a Stanley Cup victory in the playoffs. Vernon also picked up a Conn Smythe Trophy along the way with a 1.76 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and one shutout. It was a stellar performance, but the Wings still opted to trade Vernon to San Jose that summer so Osgood could have the net in 1997-98.
There was Osgood, a youngster at the time who had lost his job to a Conn Smythe winner, only to get it back after the trade. That’s a tough act to follow, and he never quite dispelled memories of his predecessor. Osgood's 2.12 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and two shutouts were good enough to backstop Detroit to another championship, but Vernon’s accomplishments the year before still made Osgood look like second-best.
But Osgood made his case to be declared “great” a decade later, when he turned in one of the best performances of the last 20 years en route to the Wings’ 2008 Stanley Cup win. He allowed just 1.55 goals per game that year and posted a .930 save percentage and three shutouts along the way.
3. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings, 2014
Jonathan Quick was nigh-unbeatable in his first Stanley Cup win in Los Angeles, posting a 1.41 goals-against average, .946 save percentage and three shutouts on his way to capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy.
But it was hard to recognize him as the same player two years later, when he put up an inflated 2.58 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in the Kings' second Cup win. Quick registered two shutouts last year but still let in a career-high 69 playoff goals, as the Kings went to seven games in each of the first three rounds.
His numbers were partially inflated by a shaky start to the playoffs against the Sharks, who put 16 pucks past him in the first three games of Round 1.
But Quick showed up when it mattered, allowing just seven goals in three Game 7 situations against the Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks.
2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins, 2009
For all the hype surrounding former No. 1 draft pick Marc-Andre Fleury, he wasn’t so hot the year his Penguins won the Stanley Cup. Sure, he stood on his head at times and made a game-saving stop on Nicklas Lidstrom in the dying moments of Game 7 in the final, but his raw numbers weren’t nearly as good in 2009 as they were the year before.
Fleury allowed 2.63 goals per game and notched a .910 save percentage in 2009, making him one of the worst statistical performers on this list.
That’s not to say the Penguins carried him that year. Rather, Fleury was a statistical rollercoaster, with some wild highs and lows and a below-average middle that was still good enough to get to the final. He gave up four or more goals five times in that playoff and never managed to shut out his opponent. He also held other teams to one goal on five occasions, so clearly he knew how to bring his A-game when needed.
Fleury’s best playoff campaign remains the 2008 run up to the final, when he posted a 1.97 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and three shutouts.
Side-by-side, Fleury’s 2008 and 2009 numbers look like they belong to two different goaltenders.
1. Antti Niemi, Chicago Blackhawks, 2010
Antti Niemi was absolutely mediocre for Chicago in the 2010 playoffs, but he also wasn’t Cristobal Huet, and that was all that mattered to the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks carried Niemi through the playoffs and beat the Philadelphia Flyers for to win the Stanley Cup, despite Niemi’s 2.63 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. Those numbers are among the worst on this list, and to add insult to injury, Flyers journeyman Michael Leighton finished the playoffs with better stats. Leighton put up a 2.46 goals-against average and .916 save percentage that year, with three shutouts to Niemi's two.
Niemi and Leighton combined to spark a temporary “maybe we don’t need a good goalie” movement in the NHL, after they led rode the coattails of their strong teams to the Stanley Cup final.