The Montreal Canadiens took the first game in their second round series against the Boston Bruins, but the story of the night was the team’s goaltender, Carey Price. Price held strong for the first two periods to give Montreal a 2-0 lead, and weathered a flurry of shots in the third period and overtime after the Bruins tied it late in the game. The 48-save performance by the Canadiens goaltender continued a trend in this year’s playoffs showing the need for a team’s most important position.
Both Montreal and Boston won their series in the first round due, in a large part, to their goaltending. Montreal faced the Tampa Bay Lightning and their goaltender, Anders Lindback. Lindback was a replacement for Tampa’s starting goaltender, Ben Bishop, after Bishop suffered an injury late in the regular season. The Canadiens easily swept the Lightning, putting 15 goals by the Tampa Bay goaltender in just four games. Likewise, the Boston Bruins shut down the Detroit Red Wings in their first round series, winning in five games. The Red Wings were only able to score six goals in that first round, thanks in large part to Boston goaltender, Tuuka Rask.
The trend was evident throughout the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The St. Louis Blues were unable to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks, thanks largely to the below average performance Ryan Miller had during the series. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings found themselves in trouble after poor performances from their goaltenders, but won their series once Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonathan Quick found their groove. And when it mattered the most, Colorado’s goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, cracked under the pressure of Game Seven, allowing the Minnesota Wild to come back four times in the game, eventually winning the game and the series in overtime.
Goaltending has become a more and more important position in the playoffs in recent years. After the 05-06 NHL lockout, the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup almost entirely because of the performance of rookie goaltender, Cam Ward. Ward won the Conn Smythe that year as the playoffs’ most valuable player. Though the years after Carolina’s Cup win led to a focus on the physical, defensive aspect of the game, that changed in 2011. Tim Thomas won the Conn Smythe the year the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, and Jonathan Quick won the award the following year when Los Angeles took hockey’s ultimate prize. More and more teams are focusing their attention on the goaltending position, and teams that are lacking in that area, like the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals, have become a little more desperate to find a solution in net.
The series between Montreal and Boston will likely be one that comes down to their respective goaltenders. Though the two teams have very different styles of play, almost contradictory to one another, both teams have young, consistently solid goaltenders that can carry their respective team far in the playoffs. Though the Canadiens won Game One, it was mostly because of Carey Price’s goaltending show, and it would be in Montreal’s best interest not to continue that trend.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner