x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Role of the goaltender to the fore in the NHL play-offs

Having someone in good form in the position during the play-offs is crucial, writes Gregg Patton.

Tomas Vokoun has impressed since going in goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tomas Vokoun has impressed since going in goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

You do not switch horses in mid-stream, the saying goes, but switching goalies in mid-stream is an NHL tradition.

Especially if it is the Stanley Cup playoffs and you are looking for that most important of postseason commodities - the hot goaltender.

The Pittsburgh Penguins may have turned their fortunes in the right direction when they abandoned No 1 netminder, Marc-Andre Fleury, during their opening series against the New York Islanders and inserted back-up Tomas Vokoun.

Vokoun promptly shut out the Isles, 4-0; beat them again, 4-3, to close out the series; and has knocked off Ottawa, 4-1 and 4-3, in the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Thus, the 36-year-old Czech has moved himself into the ever-evolving debate - just who is playing like a potential Stanley Cup winning goaltender?

In the early stages of the postseason, there are handful of other candidates. Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers all have done the work needed to make their teams viable contenders.

There was not any hand-wringing over the switch from the Pens.

"We brought Tomas Vokoun in to play big games for us and be a goaltender we can count on," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In his four wins, Volkoun has a 1.70 goals against average, and a .945 save percentage.

Crawford was even better through five games against Minnesota in the first round, and the first game versus Detroit in the next. He was 5-1, with a 1.27 goals against average and a .950 save percentage.

Henrik Lundqvist was the star of the Rangers opening round against Washington, shutting out the Capitals in Games 5 and 6 to close out the series. In his eight games in the play-offs, he has a 1.76 goals against number, with a .945 save percentage.

Then there was Quick.

The Kings 27-year-old goalie earned the Conn Smythe Trophy for his post-season, championship-winning performance last year, and was in form again as his team put together a six-game winning streak.

He helped the Kings rebound from an 0-2 deficit against St, Louis in the first round, and beat San Jose twice to start their Western Conference semifinals.

Asked how the Sharks could disrupt Quick San Jose forward Logan Couture told the San Jose Mercury-News, "He's in a zone right now. More traffic, more shots ... shoot it off him, rebounds."

The only thing he didn't mention was a few buckets of ice, over Quick's head.

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