The NHL playoffs have arrived, which means it’s time for the goalies to get going.
As simplistic as the adage can be, predictions of the Stanley Cup champion often tilt toward the guy in the crease producing the biggest saves of the spring. Hoisting the hallowed trophy is hard to do without a hot goalie.
So who are the ones to watch this time?
Corey Crawford was the winner last year with Chicago, so let’s skip him. League-leading Boston, with the stellar Tuukka Rask in goal, is probably too obvious.
Similarly, we’ll pass over other top-five seeds with well-established netminders who finished among the league leaders this season: Pittsburgh and Marc-Andre Fleury, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Montreal’s Carey Price.
Some of the bigger names struggled down the stretch and aren’t taking much momentum into the playoffs: Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller, Ryan Miller with St. Louis, and San Jose’s Antti Niemi.
Kari Lehtonen had a strong season for Dallas, but his playoff experience is minimal. Philadelphia’s Steve Mason is in that category, too.
With the suspense out of the way, here’s a pick six of candidates with the potential to be that next impenetrable presence between the pipes over the next two months:
SERGEI BOBROVSKY: The 25-year-old Russian known affectionately as “Bob” has helped steer Columbus to the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. Bobrovsky had five shutouts and was ninth in the NHL this season with his .923 save percentage. The Penguins pose a significant challenge as the opening opponent, but Bobrovsky has stolen many games for the Blue Jackets.
JONATHAN QUICK: There’s no need to know more than this: Two years ago, Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy after yielding just 29 goals in 20 playoff games for the Los Angeles Kings on the way to their first title.
JIMMY HOWARD: The Detroit Red Wings stretched their remarkable streak of making the playoffs to 23 straight years, but they’re lined up in the bracket against the mighty Bruins.
With Howard minding the net, maybe this banged-up bunch can pull off the upset. Top seeds falling in the first round, after all, are hardly historic NHL moments. The U.S. Olympic team member made 35 saves in a 3-2 win on April 2 over Boston, the defending Eastern Conference champion and winner of the 2011 Stanley Cup. Perhaps that planted a seed of doubt in the minds of the Bruins.
SEMYON VARLAMOV: Just like his Hall of Fame coach Patrick Roy, Varlamov has the makeup to carry a team a long way if his young and potent forwards aren’t fazed. One of the Vezina Trophy front-runners, Varlamov led the league with 41 victories and was third with a .927 save percentage.
ILYA BRYZGALOV: One of four goalies to play at least 12 games for Minnesota this season, Bryzgalov was fetched at the trade deadline for a fourth-round draft pick. He has a spotty track record in playoffs past with Phoenix and Philadelphia, but he came through when the Wild needed him most, posting a 7-1-3 record and 2.12 goals-against average since his acquisition from Edmonton.
ANDERS LINDBACK: Lindback left some shaky earlier performances behind him by going 3-0 with a 0.67 goals-against average over the final three games to help Tampa Bay lock up home-ice advantage for the first round against the Canadiens. This is Ben Bishop’s job, having set a Lightning record with 37 wins, but he hurt his elbow last week, leaving his status uncertain.