Veteran goalies getting their shot in Stanley Cup playoffs
For teams in the NHL playoffs Wednesday, there is comfort with having experience – particularly with a Vezina Trophy or a Stanley Cup winner — between the pipes.
Washington has the postseason’s oldest goaltender with 39-year-old Craig Anderson, who has held his own against 2014 Vezina winer Tuukka Rask of Boston entering Game 3 of their first-round series. Edmonton hopes for the same from Mike Smith (also 39) entering its opener against Winnipeg’s reigning Vezina winner, Connor Hellebuyck.
There is also a Game 2 matchup of players who have been part of Cup-winning teams in Colorado’s Philipp Grubauer (2018 with Washington) and Jordan Binnington (2019) of St. Louis.
“I think playoff hockey’s a lot about experience,” said Smith, who watched Anderson’s Game 1 win against the Bruins. “You can’t tell a young player what playoffs are like until they’ve actually witnessed it themselves. It’s something that’s unique to a veteran player and a player that’s been in the playoffs a few times over the course of my career.”
Anderson stopped 44 shots Monday in the Capitals’ OT loss to the Bruins that evened their best-of-seven series. It was his first playoff start since 2017 and his third all season.
“As we get older, things become a little bit more difficult, so for Andy, he’s a veteran player,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He’s been around, and he’s played a lot of games. The one thing that you’d like is to have that rhythm of playing games all the time so that he can keep his rhythm in the net, and he wasn’t afforded that luxury.”
The Nashville-Carolina series is the outlier. The Hurricanes gave 25-year-old Alex Nedeljkovic his first playoff start in Monday’s 5-2 win in Game 1 while fellow 26-year-old goalie Juuse Saros made his fifth career postseason start.
It’s unclear if Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour will rotate goaltenders as he did last season to give Petr Mrazek a start after he missed significant time due to injuries.
“Yeah, Petr is our guy, but he’s had a lot of time off,” Brind’Amour said. “Not that I was questioning whether or not he could do it, it just gave Ned an opportunity this year. I just felt like he earned the start.”