Goaltending still drives the playoffs, even if you don't know where it is going to come from
Sometimes it is Sergei Bobrovsky and Adin Hill. Wait .... what?
If there is one thing I will scream about repeatedly in hockey (and I have!) it is the power of goaltending.
It can completely change any team, in any season.
If it is good, it can lift bad teams to the playoffs and playoff teams to a championship.
If it is bad, it can take championship teams and make them look like a disappointing failure.
It can hide flaws that exist elsewhere on a bad roster, and it can make good teams think they have flaws that are not actually issues.
A lot of bad decisions get made by teams based on the success or failure of this one position.
This becomes increasingly true in the playoffs, and especially in any random best-of-seven series. It seems like the single biggest part of going on a deep playoff run, or even a championship run, is which random goalie just so happens to get hot at the right time.
You just don’t always know which goalie it is going to be.
Sometimes it can be the goalie that actually IS a superstar and a consistent top-tier goalie. Somebody like Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay, or Carey Price in his prime in Montreal, or Igor Shesterkin a year ago with the New York Rangers.
But sometimes it is somebody completely random, or a goalie that isn’t actually a franchise cornerstone. Matt Murray in Pittsburgh. Jordan Binnington in St. Louis. Even if it does not result in a championship, we have seen runs from goalies like Martin Jones, Dwayne Roloson, and Jaroslav Halak taking teams that weren’t that good on deep runs.
That brings us to this year’s Stanley Cup Final between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights, where the starting goaltending matchup is going to be Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Adin Hill.
Bet you didn’t see that coming at the start of the season.
Or even at the start of the playoffs when neither goalie was in net for their respective team.
Both of these rosters are excellent with their own Conn Smythe contenders at the top of them that are not goalies. Jack Eichel has been exactly what the Golden Knights needed as a No. 1 center. Matthew Tkachuk has probably been one of the top-five players in hockey over the past two years and has taken his game to an entirely new level in the postseason for the Panthers.
Florida won the Presidents’ Trophy a year ago, while Vegas has been a steady contender from the day it arrived in the NHL.
But even with all of that neither team would be at hockey’s biggest stage without the play of two pretty unexpected goaltenders going on absolute heaters.
The funny thing about the Panthers — and about how random all of this can be — is when they opened the playoffs they thought they were riding the hot goalie that was going to hopefully propel them on an unexpected run.
It just wasn’t Bobrovsky.
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