There’s still a lot of hockey to be played before we reach the Stanley Cup final, and despite some convincing series leads, it’s too soon to say for certain which of the eight teams remaining are bound for their respective conference finals. However, with the way things are looking through the early part of the second round, it’d be safe to say the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators are among the favorites to battle it out for the Stanley Cup. That's really not much of a surprise given the two teams share something in common: top-tier goaltending.
Through the opening part of the post-season, Predators netminder Pekka Rinne and Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury have been near unbeatable and the cracks the masked men have shown have been few. It’s not as if they’ve been up against slouches in the shooting category, either.
Rinne squared off against the high-powered Chicago Blackhawks offense in the first round, shutting the team down along the way, and has since slowed down snipers such as Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz against the St. Louis Blues. Rinne has put up two clean sheets and allowed a mere 11 goals against. The next-best goals against total by any netminder in the second round is 19, a mark held by Blues goaltender Jake Allen. Rinne has his sights on setting some records, too. His .953 save percentage is the best of any goaltender to face at least 200 shots in a post-season.
As for Fleury, he was pegged as the backup and only thrust into starting duty after Matt Murray fell injured ahead of Game 1, but 'Flower' stymied the Blue Jackets’ sixth-ranked offense in the opening round. And once by Columbus, Fleury has set done everything he can to shut down the Washington Capitals’ formidable attack. Fleury has faced at least 33 shots in all four games, but he’s posted a stellar .937 SP against the Capitals. His total playoff SP, .935, is third-best in the league.
But how does the post-season play of Rinne and Fleury stack up against some of the all-time greats? Here are the five best playoff puckstopping performances of the past 25 years:
5. Kirk McLean, Vancouver Canucks — 1993-94
There’s a common theme throughout this list, as four of the five goaltenders ended the playoffs with some sort of hardware, be it the Stanley Cup or the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. The lone goaltender among these five to win neither, however, is McLean. His numbers still stand among some of the best all-time, though.
Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden were the two major offensive forces for the Canucks, but McLean was undoubtedly the backbone in the playoffs. During the regular season, he was steady enough, posting a .891 SP and 2.99 goals-against average, good enough to finish slightly below middle of the pack numbers. But McLean looked all-world in the playoffs.
In the opening round, he posted a .914 SP against the Calgary Flames. He followed that up with a .940 mark against the Dallas Stars. Then, up against the Maple Leafs, McLean turned in a .947 SP, including two shutouts. Luck ran out in the final against the New York Rangers, though. McLean came back to earth, posting a .919 SP in the seven-game series, allowing three goals against in Game 7 as the Canucks dropped a 3-2 contest, and the Stanley Cup, to the Rangers. To this day, McLean’s 761 saves are the second-most in recorded playoff history, and his .928 SP and 2.29 GAA were miles ahead of the respective .895 and 3.14 league averages.
4. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils — 2002-03
“One Goal” might be the Blackhawks’ modern-era slogan, but it should have been the mantra of the Devils before that. After all, in nearly half of New Jersey's wins en route to the Stanley Cup in 2002-03, the Devils needed just a single goal to take home victory. That’s because Martin Brodeur was on fire, shutting out the opposition in seven contests, a single-playoff record that he still holds.
Some will choose to point to the smothering defensive style the Devils played at the time as the reason Brodeur was so brilliant, and while there’s some truth to that as New Jersey was one of the toughest teams to generate offense against, it doesn’t mean Brodeur’s job was exactly easy. He still faced 622 shots during the post-season — the 27th most of the 54 goaltenders to play at least 20 games in a post-season — and managed to turn all but 41 aside.
Brodeur’s spectacular .934 SP and 1.65 GAA led the Devils to the Stanley Cup, but he didn’t stop collecting hardware there. Brodeur also won the Vezina Trophy in 2002-03, the first of four he would win over the course of the next five seasons.
3. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings — 2011-12
With the way Rinne has played, he has his sights set on making some history. In order to do so, though, he’ll have to make it to the final and dethrone the Kings’ Quick.
Quick was in the first season of his real rise to prominence and had been one of the most outstanding goaltenders in the regular season, leading the league with an incredible 10 shutouts while posting a .929 SP and 1.95 GAA. To continue to put up rock solid numbers like that would have made the Kings a serious contender for the Stanley Cup, but the fact Quick managed to somehow improve his play made Los Angeles a clearcut favorite early on.
It helped that the Kings’ defense was as stifling as any the league had seen since the Devils’ heyday, allowing a mere 538 shots on goal over the course of 20 games, but that still put the onus on Quick to stop those chances that did get through. He more than answered the call. Over the course of the entire playoff, Quick allowed only 29 goals against — the fewest of any goaltender to play at least 20 playoff games — while posting three shutouts, a 1.41 GAA and a record-setting .946 SP. The Kings won the Stanley Cup and, for his next-level performance, Quick was awarded the Conn Smythe.
2. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim — 2002-03
The 2002-03 Stanley Cup final featured two goaltenders at the height of their game in the post-season. Brodeur’s play during the entire playoff run has been documented above, but it’s noteworthy that he didn't manage to capture the Conn Smythe despite playing so well. No one was complaining, though, because Giguere had almost singlehandedly carried Anaheim to the Stanley Cup final.
Consider that in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings, who finished with the second-best point total in the league and scored more goals than any other club, Giguere posted a .965 SP as Anaheim won four straight. Then against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Dallas Stars, Giguere managed a .936 SP across six games. What followed Giguere's stonewalling of the Stars was a series-long goaltending performance for the ages against the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference final. Giguere allowed one goal — one! — in four games, posting a .992 SP as the Mighty Ducks swept their way to the Stanley Cup final.
However, much like McLean nearly 20 years earlier, Giguere’s numbers came back to earth in the final. He managed a .910 SP across seven games, still steady enough to give Anaheim a chance, but New Jersey captured the Stanley Cup in seven games.
Before Quick came along, it was Giguere who held the record for best SP in a post-season, as he finished the playoffs with a .945 SP.
1. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins — 2010-11
Everyone will be quick to point out that the game isn’t played on paper, but if it were, the Bruins would have had no business winning the Stanley Cup in 2010-11. The Vancouver Canucks were a powerhouse, an offensive juggernaut and defensively sound club that was backstopped by a star goaltender of their own in Roberto Luongo. But the one thing that could potentially separate Boston from Vancouver was Tim Thomas, who had been playing like a man possessed in the post-season. And when it came time to steal the Stanley Cup final, Thomas did exactly that.
Thomas already had sound numbers entering the final, posting a .929 SP and two shutouts en route to the East-versus-West showdown, but he blurred the lines between a figurative and literal brick wall with his performance against the Canucks. His worst game of the final saw him allow three goals against on 33 shots in Game 2, but across the rest of the series he was stopping just about everything Vancouver threw on net. Thomas turned in a .967 SP across the seven-game series and came up with two shutouts, the most notable of which was a 37-stop showing in Game 7 as the Bruins captured the Stanley Cup.
Thomas, who finished with a .940 SP, 1.98 GAA and four shutouts, won the Conn Smythe and set three league records in the process. His 798 saves were the most saves any goaltender had ever made in a post-season and the 849 shots he faced were also the most any goaltender had seen over the course of a single playoff. In addition, Thomas made a whopping 238 saves in the final, the most in league history.
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