The Capitals and coach Peter Laviolette will, unsurprisingly, keep the decision on a starting goalie quiet as the hours to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs inch closer.
Washington will choose Vitek Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov to start for the team’s playoff opener against Florida on Tuesday, but that decision might not be known until the team comes onto the ice for the pregame skate at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Fla.
“I'll keep goaltenders as I did last year, a little closer to the vest,” Laviolette said. “It'll be conversations with the goaltenders. We talk about it as coaches. We go back and look at history. We go back and look at who's playing well and their seasons. Who has played well against Florida. Down the stretch here, who's done a good job.”
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In the month of April, Samsonov played in eight games and posted a save percentage of .884 with a goals against average of 3.35. Vanecek, in the same timeframe, played in seven games and posted a save percentage of .875 and a GAA of 3.21.
Against the Panthers this season, Samsonov played in all three games and stopped 80 of 91 shots he faced. Vanecek played in just one game and made 13 of 15 stops.
“You'd like to see the goaltender just take off and run,” Laviolette said. “Like I said during the regular season, that was also the case. But we used both goaltenders, were able to win a lot of hockey games, have a successful season, somewhat successful with 100 points, utilizing both goalies.”
The team called up Zach Fucale as the third goaltender, but he will just be around to keep both Vanecek and Samsonov fresh for the series.
Should the Capitals be forced to rely heavily on two goaltenders in the postseason, or turn to the goalie who was the backup in Game 1, it won’t be unfamiliar territory for Laviolette.
In Carolina in 2006, he started Martin Gerber for the first two games of the first round before turning to Cam Ward for the remainder of the series. Ward seized the No. 1 job and the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. In Philadelphia in 2010, he played both Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher at nearly a 50-50 split in the postseason. The Flyers lost to the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.
In all likelihood, both Washington goalies will see action in the first round of the postseason. But while only one will be tabbed as the starter for Game 1, both need to be ready against the NHL's highest-scoring team.
“They know that just based on the way that it’s been here for two years,” Laviolette said. “We have counted on and relied on both goaltenders. And they’ve done a good job.”